“I wish we would have known more” replied one of my classmates at our 35th class reunion. Thirty-five years ago I graduated from High School and this this past week we our class reunion. This was the first class reunion I had attended. Many of us shared stories not just of our high school experiences, but also of our own college experiences. A few added college experiences of their own children. Needless to say, planning for college is a central task of being a parent. Here are a few take-aways which may help you.
My classmates shared a central feeling about post-high school education: “It is terribly expensive!” For those who saved, they felt they had not saved enough. Saving for college is anything but easy. The simple day-to-day living expenses often doesn’t leave much disposable income left over.
Those who did save with a 529 college savings plan, such as Edvest, were not overly excited. They felt the promised advantages where well overblown. Some wish that they had had the disposal income throughout the years and others mentioned the fees associated with their 529 plan.
The one aspect that they could agree upon is the need to have lowered the indirect college costs. For example, many wish that they could have narrowed down the career field(s) with their children at an earlier time; attending college “undecided” is a very expensive way because this adds extra semesters on the back end. A second example of increased indirect college costs is that many felt could have saved their kids time and extra classes with having a good list of criteria for colleges that they were interested in. Many kids just attended the local school because it was the one that “everyone else was going to attend”. Their kids then transferred to a different institution later; this added an extra semester. One estimated that this cost their household over an additional $14,000.
The expensiveness of college is a hard reality to face. My classmates, after-the-fact, realized the need for quality thought and effort beforehand to making college affordable for their children.
Two of my classmates said: there simply is an overabundance of college preparation materials for our kids. It seems like everyone is in the college prep-game: Non-profits, for-profits, test preparation companies, tutoring services, and admission guidance. One classmate lamented: “reflecting on what is available on-line, one would think that every child is trying to get into an Ivy league school – our child is not that academically gifted and just wants to learn a trade!”Parent Courses for College Planning
With such a multitude of college planning websites, resources and opinions, preparing for college has become for many an overly complicated process. One of my classmates was simply overwhelmed with the multitude of options for this process. “All we were looking for was basic assistance with the college admission’s process.”
The central problem is that all this help was geared towards their teenagers. The question was: who is there to help us, the parents? We are the ones, my classmate pointed-out, who have to help our kids sort through all the pre-college material admissions and funding issues. We are the ones who live with the consequences of their decision.
Another common theme among my classmates was that their college planning should have begun in Middle School. Most said that they started to ask questions to their children about their college goals and aspirations first when their kids were juniors in high school. A few said they only started when their children were already high school seniors. Clearly, they said, this was too late. They all said that it takes time to sort out which college is really the best one. Once at college, it is very hard to “figure it out”.
The insight that emerged from our discussion really boiled down this: Parents are the best college planners and college consultants for their children. This came from the observations that for our own college experiences, parental guidance was often absent; our own parents did not help us prepare for our own college pathway. From our children’s perspective, parents remain the best college consultants available to them. Relying on guidance counselors is a hit-and-miss strategy.
And, as parents ourselves, my classmates readily admitted that they themselves did not do a very good job of preparing their own kids. One could feel a sense of appropriate parental guilt and regret.
If I could impart one tip for parents with children in middle school and high school, it would be: do your own homework before you try to guide your children towards college success. My classmates simply did the best they could with what they had. As parents, we have the ability to guide their children towards college success. And as I am sure you know, good intentions are often not good enough. Our children deserve our best.
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