As a parent, the high school years can be a difficult time. You are watching your baby grow up and move on into their own life.
As a result, you may wonder if it’s best for them to take the lead in filling out and sending in college applications, applying for financial aid, and more. After all, it’s their life, and it can be fully their responsibility. It can be the first step in understanding the consequences of inaction, or reaping the benefits of being prepared.
Here’s the comment by a parent, which started an intense conversation in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group on this topic:
“I just told my 16 year-old son (Junior year) that it is his life and his responsibility to manage his college applications. I will help him if he asks but I’m not going to spend the next year nagging him. He is smart and capable and if the worst thing that happens is a gap year where he has to get a job then he will get a different kind of education.”
The truth is there are pros and cons to letting your child step out on their own with college. It’s a very expensive investment that has many parents worrying about who is going to pay for it and how. Making the wrong decisions could saddle them with debt for decades. And your child may not be ready for such a big responsibility right now.
Let’s explore some different ways you can help – and hold back – during the college process.
Help: With Cost Savings and Financing
Young people often don’t understand the long-term ramifications of the financial choices they make. When it comes to applying for college, tens of thousands of dollars is a lot to give a teenager responsibility for.
Instead, work cooperatively with your student. Help them understand how much schools cost, and the fact that different colleges can cost vastly different amounts. Work with them to understand which ones are more generous with aid.
Another parent in our Facebook group put it,
“It all depends on the schools that are targeted. My kids have worked too hard in high school to go to a college that won’t reward them with merit. We are in that same boat that a lot of middle class families are. We have saved but we make too much to qualify for need-based aid. A school that is 60k/yr and doesn’t give merit won’t make it on their lists. We won’t sacrifice our retirement for their education when there are some incredible schools willing to reward my kid.”
You’ll also have to fill out a lot of financial paperwork before your student can apply for loans, merit aid, and scholarships. If you’re comfortable, have your teen sit with you and help them see the details and work that goes into the decision.
When the aid packages come in, talk through them with your child so they can understand what’s being offered. Decide together if you want to appeal a decision.
Hold Back: Applications and Essays
Many parents get very worked up about college admission forms and essays. This is a good spot to step back and let your student take the lead.
The bottom line is, if they don’t finish the applications and essays, they won’t be admitted to school. They’ll have to work for at least a year before they attend. That’s not the end of the world!
One parent in our group noted:
“I will help him if he asks but I’m not going to spend the next year nagging him. He is smart and capable and if the worst thing that happens is a gap year where he has to get a job then he will get different kind of education.”
If your student is not disciplined enough to finish essays and admissions, they can deal with the consequences and try again next year. Maybe they’re honestly not ready for college or feel pressured into it. There are a lot of very useful life options that don’t involve a four-year school, so don’t panic.
We have to be careful to let our children choose their lives, rather than trying to live it for them. This is one area you can do that in.
Help: Choosing the Right School
Given that your child is certain that they want to attend college, making the decision of where to attend can be overwhelming. There are many, many options and a student may feel that if they don’t make the “one perfect choice” their life will be ruined.
You can reassure them that there are a lot of right choices, and talk with them to prioritize what they want in a school. Cost is one factor, but so is school size, culture, degree programs, and much more.
How far do they want to be from home? Do they want to save money by starting at a community college? You can help them work through these options and make a choice they are comfortable with.
Hold Back: Choosing a Gap Year
One area that you should consider holding back in is whether your student even wants to go to school immediately. They may be ready academically without being ready socially or emotionally. A gap year can be a great option.
Taking a year off can help your child earn money and save for college. It may help them to experiment with the working world and see what the difference is between a job with a high school education and one that requires a degree.
Or, your child may be drawn to the trades, and an apprenticeship right out of high school can be a perfect alternative to college. Your student may be more interested in joining the military and serving a term before deciding what to do long-term.
It can be scary to allow your child to make their own decision on how to move forward, but in the end, everyone is happier and money isn’t wasted.
Connect With Other Parents Trying To Figure Out How To Pay For College