By the time your teen is in high school (and given today's economic environment), there may not be a lot of opportunities to boost the college fund. But whether you're in good shape to pay for college or losing sleep over it, it is still important to have The Talk. That's when you sit down with your teen and discuss all elements of college admissions, including cost. The Talk may involve some probing on the parents' part as well as offering some guidelines.
Vince Pattillo, a certified financial planner and a certified college planning specialist, puts it in simple terms. Have the student focus on what she wants to be when she grows up. It doesn't have to be precise, but just a general sense is useful in this exercise. Then start identifying schools where the student will excel and get a good grounding for the next step -- the best graduate school possible. He recalled someone who went from associate degree to Rutgers to a Wharton MBA. This may not be the path we've dreamed of for our kids, but it's one that works if the student is driven and determined.
Whatever direction is taken, it must be paid for. Here's a good place to start grasping your family's contribution in paying for college.
Meanwhile, if your child is a sophomore and you are looking ahead to writing those big checks in less than three years, here is some sensible advice from Vince:
-- if you haven't done so, speak to an expert who can look at your financial situation and offer advice.
-- if you don't have a 529 plan, don't start one now; the fees will kill you. Instead, just be diligent about saving and keep it in a conservative fund.
-- manage your own expectations, and help your child manage his; be open-minded and look for the right fit, not necessarily a school with a famous name.
-- parents and child, be patient with each other. You've got some exciting (and maybe a little stressful) times ahead.