This story was originally published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) group. It has been edited for clarity and flow. The member’s name has been omitted for privacy.
My daughter started college in August and I wanted to share what worked for us during the college search process.
I’m a single mom and was totally honest about what I could and could not afford to pay for college. We started our conversations about money during my daughter’s freshman year of high school.
Some parents don’t share finances with their children, which is fine. My daughter knows that I budget and we don’t live beyond our means. We save for big things and are thankful for what we do have.
Fast forward to senior year of high school. Given the uniqueness of my daughter’s intended degree — dance with a ballet concentration at a school that allows dance majors to double major — she cast a wide net.
Some colleges were financially out of reach, but I let my daughter apply because she has known since she was 13 years old the reality of our family finances. In our home, college debt was not something we entertained. As a result, there were no surprises and no tears.
We live in Florida and have access to 100% free tuition for four years through the Bright Futures scholarship program. My daughter was accepted both academically and artistically to University of South Florida (USF), which meant little to no debt for the whole four years. But she really wanted to go to Southern Methodist University (SMU), which is $80,000 a year for tuition, room and board.
She knew the only way to go to SMU was through scholarships. Again, having the same conversation for four years prepared my daughter to say no to SMU if she didn’t receive enough scholarships.
My daughter did end up being awarded the President’s Scholar Award at SMU, which is a full ride scholarship. She accepted. My bill for freshman year was $484 for fees.
This is not a post to brag or say I’m an amazing parent. It’s to share the approach that worked for my family.
Just before she received the Southern Methodist Scholarship, my daughter said she would be happy going to USF because it has a great dance program and we would have little to no debt.
What We Learned
In my experience, being clear about money starting freshman year prepared my daughter to find something positive at every university she was accepted to. Of course, she liked some schools better than others, but she felt good about all her options.
Be upfront, be honest. Don’t put off conversations about money because it will make senior year so much more enjoyable when your student knows what’s realistic.
Best of luck to all of you!
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