Talking to Your Kids About an Affordable College

talking to teens about affordable colleges

Talking to Your Kids About an Affordable College

Published August 31, 2019 | Last Updated November 2nd, 2023 at 02:13 pm

talking to teens about affordable colleges

The sky’s the limit; you can go anywhere and do anything!

Well, at least that’s what most parents would love to be able to say to their student. The truth is, while effort can get you far, there are choices and tradeoffs to be made. Especially when it comes to choosing a college.

With students, it’s important to set expectations and make sure they understand what’s an affordable college and what’s not. They also need adult help understanding the impact of debt on their future.

We asked the parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook group when they had “the money talk” with their kids, and what advice they’d give.

Here are some tips they shared and other helpful advice so you can help your students choose an affordable college.

Start the Affordable College Discussion Early

Many parents in our Facebook group started talking to their children about affordable colleges during elementary and middle school. This was often in conjunction with other lessons on money, saving, and thrift.

One parent said, “We explained it this way: We can afford things from the mall but we always check resale shops and garage sales first and then if we still need a new item, we tend to actually purchase from a place like Walmart/Target. We told her that we will do the same with college.”

Giving your kids a solid financial education – in every area – will help make the discussion about an affordable college much easier. In fact, your child may take it as a given that they have to be careful with spending on school!

Don’t think it’s a “one and done” discussion, either – one parent pointed out, “It’s like sex ed—it’s not one talk. It’s many talks over many years with increasing complexity.”

Discuss the Benefits of In-State Schools

When you do have the discussion about affordable college programs with your kids, they may well choose to stay close to home, start at a community college, or go to a state school instead of a “name brand” institution.

Unfortunately, there will always be “those people” who consider college a status symbol, and they may make negative comments about your child choosing an affordable college.

As difficult as it may be, block out the noise!

A parent in our group shared, “{My son} currently finished his first year at a state university in their honors college and will come out of that school debt free. He put up with lots of snarky comments from other high school classmates and their parents as well as some teachers who thought the school was beneath him during the college search process.”

“He’s actually majoring in what he wants to major in and has repeatedly told us how much he liked his classes and professors. I think he was shocked that he did like them so much after hearing negative comments from people. I wish people would keep their negative comments to themselves. It would have made the whole process much easier.”

Be Honest and Avoid the “Freshman Trap”

Many parents share with their students how much is currently saved for college and what debt can be expected. If you plan to cosign a loan, make sure your child knows the upper limit that you are willing to sign for.

Also, make sure your student understands how much debt can impact their future, including their desire to take a job they may enjoy with a very low starting salary. If you have examples from yourself or other family members, you can use them. 

Most of all, don’t avoid the discussion. Students will create their own ideas, hopes, and dreams, many of them based on input from teachers and peers. You don’t want to be the one who ruins the illusion because you didn’t set expectations up front.

One parent sadly shared, “I have adult friends who are still angry at their parents. Justly or not. I think had they known before senior year, it’d have been different and healthier for the relationships. Sadly some parents never participate in any way and a kid is left scrambling unprepared.

Y’all are great to discuss it!”

Finally, don’t fall for the “freshman trap.” Some schools will offer generous one-year aid that either isn’t renewable or is very difficult to maintain. Make sure you are looking at the full four-year financial picture.

Help Students Stay Within Budget at an Affordable College

Once an affordable college is chosen, there’s one more step –  Help your student understand how vital it is to stay on track with the budget while they are at school.

Without a parent there to be a voice of wisdom, some students begin spending freely on everything from meals outside their meal plans to spring break vacations. Be sure your student remembers that they have a budget on campus, and it’s not just for tuition and fees.


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:

Here’s Why You May Want to Keep Your College List to Yourself

Determining Your College Budget: Affordability vs. What You’re Willing to Pay

Understanding the Cost of Attendance (COA): A Vital Tool for College Financial Planning





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