5 Questions About Paying for College Every Parent Should Ask Their Child — Before It’s Too Late

Father with his arm around his teen son's shoulder. They are having a serious conversation.

5 Questions About Paying for College Every Parent Should Ask Their Child — Before It’s Too Late

Published March 1, 2024

Father with his arm around his teen son's shoulder. They are having a serious conversation.

It’s one thing to talk to your child about going to college and perhaps even which colleges they may want to apply to, but too few parents get into the nitty-gritty of how to pay for said college, and how that may impact their choices now and their lives later.

Below, we look at five key questions about paying for college that every parent should be asking their teen. Not only will these questions prompt students to consider things they’ve likely never given much thought to, but they will also give them — and you — a better sense of the financial path to college that’s best for them. 

  1. How do you plan to pay for college?You’d be surprised how few parents pose this question to their children. Even if they already know that you’ve been saving since they were born via 529 or other college savings plans, it’s important that they understand exactly what they can expect your contribution to be — and where they have to fill in the gaps. Asking this simple question can get that key conversation started.
  2. Are you willing to take out loans to pay for college?When you’re 18 and you’ve never had to pay for anything this expensive on your own before, it’s hard to have a clear understanding of how student loans work and the impact that borrowing will have on your credit and your life going forward. Young students tend to focus on the short-term gain (I get to attend the college I want to attend) and focus much less on the long-term consequence (I’ll be in debt for years). 
  3. If you plan to take out loans, how do you plan to pay them back?Choosing to take out loans is common. Many students have to do it to achieve their goal of getting a college degree. But too few of them are forced to consider what exactly that will look like once they graduate.   Asking your child this question can prompt them to explore more about how debt works. For example, taking on debt means they’ll have less money to spend every month. Depending on their career choice and what their salary is likely to be during the first few years out of college, debt can take a significant chunk of their earnings, and chances are it will take years to pay off.It’s also important to discuss the impact that taking on debt will have on their credit score, which can in turn impact their ability to buy a car or even their first home. Things hit differently when somebody asks if you want something bad enough to delay these key milestones, but asking this now can help them be better prepared. 
  4. Do you plan to work to pay for college? 
    Many students choose to work to help offset the costs of college, which is admirable, but there are consequences to that, too. For example, students who work often take longer than four years to graduate. Working through college also means possibly choosing schools that cater to full- or part-time workers, such as community colleges.Then there’s the issue of living expenses. Many students who work while getting an education choose to live at home to offset the cost of living. Is that an option in your family and if so, how will that work and how will it impact not just them, but everyone in the family?       These are all things that could and should be discussed early on, so students aren’t stuck in situations that they struggle to balance.
       
  5. How much are you likely to earn in your first job?
    Before anyone takes on any sort of college debt, it’s important to be realistic about what they’re likely to earn post-graduation. Even if your child is undecided on what their major will be, asking this question will get them to think about the kind of lifestyle they’d like to have after graduation, which may impact their chosen field of study and eventually, their potential earnings.The average starting salary for college graduates is somewhere between $33,000 and $58,000 per year. Help your child break down these numbers so they get a sense of what their take-home pay will be after taxes and how taking on debt factors into that. Will they need to live with roommates? Can they afford a car payment, food, and utilities and still pay their debt? Will they have to forego vacations or other nice-to-haves? Asking these questions now can save them from a lot of shock and struggle later. 

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

How Your Credit Score Affects Student Loans

How Do Student Loans Work: Guide to Federal, State, and Private College Loans

8 Huge Mistakes I Made with My Student Loans

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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