Planning for college is an exciting time for most families. Children make plans to pursue their talents and ambitions and parents do everything they can to help the accomplish their goals. If you are making any New Year’s Resolutions, perhaps, some of these tips to prepare for college will help make setting goals easier to accomplish.
#1: Ask Adults for Wisdom
Depending on where you or your teen is in the college selection process, it might be worth the time to ask adults or recent college graduates their college advice. College requires a large investment of time and money. Students need to make the most of their 4 years so they will continue to benefit from a college degree for the rest of their lives.
Here are some starter questions to ask:
- If you could do college over again, what would you do differently?
- What was your major? Did it help you?
- I want to be a ______ what major will help me the most?
- What school did you go to? Why did you go there?
As nearly half of all college graduates did not get a first job within their field of study, these questions can be very wise. While our culture tends to view elders as uncool and stodgy, God places people into our lives to provide wisdom. Lessons they learned from experience, something that most teenagers do not have because they simply haven’t been alive long enough yet.
#2: Know “Why” You Want To Attend a Particular College
Why do you want to attend a certain school? Is it a Christian, have small class sizes, a great internship/job placement program, specialize in your future career field, close to home, or the school colors happen to be your favorite colors? The reasons why you prefer a particular college might be a combination of the previous ones listed or for reasons unlisted.
Do not simply pick a college because the last 4 generations of your family went there or they have a great football team. While tradition and loyalty is valuable and honorable, you do not want to go for the wrong reasons and realize you made a bad decision.
Going to a 4-year school to study political science when you wanted to become an auto mechanic is one such example. Also, intentionally choosing a college to “spite” your parents probably isn’t a good idea either.
When selecting a college, try to visit the campus, talk to your elders, consider the costs (tuition and getting back home for the holidays or weekends), and pray about it.
#3: Find the total cost of your prospective colleges
College is expensive. At $1.3 trillion, student loan debt is the second highest form of personal debt, with home mortgage loans only being more prevalent, as post-secondary training of some sort is now required to be competitive in the current job market. It costs money to make money.
In fact, the average 2016 college graduate has $37,000 in student loans. That number will only continue to increase as colleges and universities seem to increase their costs every year. This might not seem like a lot of money to an 18-year-old with minimal life experience, but, it’s a huge chunk of change to pay in student loan bills each month after graduation. Due to these historic debt figures, Millennials are the most indebted generation to enter the workforce in American history.
Applying for local or national scholarships listed on databases like Fastweb or applying for financial aid through the FAFSA are actions many families will take, many families will need to borrow money to pay for college. Those that had the ability to fund a 529 Savings Plan will have some help, but, it boils down to the total cost.
There is a level prestige of going to the “big” school in your state such as THE University of Tennessee instead of UT-Martin that almost nobody has heard of. Every person wants the name recognition on their college diploma. But, a college degree from the big schools as the same as a degree from a small school.
It’s likely that the small school will be cheaper than the larger school because of fewer applicants. A less competitive application process means the increased likelihood of receiving more school scholarships that only the most qualified applicants receive at the more prestigious colleges.
You might also consider attending a community college for the first two years or earning college credit early (tip #4) to save some additional money.
#4: Earn College Credit Early
Whether you are currently enrolled in college or planning to be in the coming years, this is one tip that anybody can take advantage of. And, it can also help save you some money as well. It’s even possible to graduate college debt-free!
Depending on which school you plan to attend, you will be able to “test out” of one semester up to the entire college course requirements via credit by examination. By taking a Clep or DSST exam, you pay a small fee of about $100 and colleges will give you credit for what you know already.
Depending on your score and the exam type, you will receive one or two semesters credit. This means fewer classes you have to sit through, especially if you already know most of the information already. As most colleges charge at least $200 per credit hour ($600 per semester class), that is a savings of at least $500 per semester.
Many families think that the only ways to earn college credit early is through Dual Enrollment or Advanced Placement. Not so. Clep and DSST are nationally recognized programs that were most popular for adult learners that did not have time to return to college full-time and still be a parent or work to pay the bills.
As college costs continue to increase, credit by examination is becoming more popular. Best of all, it’s never too late to start! While most families focus on how they will pay for college & getting selected by the most prestigious college possible (both are noble goals), they have never known that Clep is an option to help make planning for college easier.
Want to learn how you can earn an accreditated college degree with no student loans?
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Brian @ Debt Discipline says
Great advice. I would hope/wish more parents and guidance counselor would have these types of conversations with their children/students as they prepare for college,
We are working with our three children to prepare them as best as possible for college.
Thank you. One of the biggest challenges for me was not having a good concept of how money works and that paying a monthly loan payment isn’t that fun. Congrats on being proactive in preparing your children for college.
I really liked the suggestion to ask others about their college experience to get an idea of what to expect, and what to maybe change in order to streamline your college attendance. I found it especially interesting that nearly half of college graduates don’t get their first job out of school in their field of study. To me, this makes asking the right questions to other college graduates really important. I think it might also be helpful to speak with college graduates that are working or studied in the same field you are pursuing.
Yes, finding a “recent graduate mentor” is a really good idea. It’s another way that networking can be so valuable. Thank you for the great idea.
Jack Titchener says
I definitely agree that its important to know the particular reasons as to attending a specific college or university. My son is going to a state college and chose the school because he wants to be a mechanical engineer and that is what they specialize in exclusively. Great job on the college tips, they are all spot on!
Thank you, Jack and it sounds like your son has made a wise decision!
Ridley Fitzgerald says
It’s great to know more about going to college. I’ve wanted to go back and finish my degree for a while, so this is helpful. The “why” of why I want to go back is because I want to open up opportunities for my in the career of my choice.
Knowing the “why” is very important. Too many people don’t ask “why” they’re doing something until it’s too late. It doesn’t matter if it’s for college or another life decision.