Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and gather with family, but a successful holiday often requires advance planning and thoughtful portions of each element. Success after high school can be accomplished in the same way: having a plan in mind and accomplishing it in portions beginning as early as middle school.
Portion One: Determining Options
The first step is often considering the options available to your student. Will your child pursue a military career, a trade apprenticeship, a two-year degree or certificate, a four-year bachelor’s degree, or a professional degree spanning years of education and training?
Even if you and your student don’t have a clear determination yet, exploring the options — including important considerations like cost and entrance requirements — will lay the foundation for the following portions.
Portion Two: Financial Planning
Using the options found above, you and your student can explore costs for possible education or training programs and start to plan ways to pay. Look at average costs and costs at the high and low ends of the spectrum, as well as the recent history of cost increases to get an idea of how much your student might be expected to pay in total for his or her education.
Will you need to increase the amount you’re currently saving for postsecondary education? What other options, like college savings accounts, will be useful to you from a tax and financial standpoint? You may wish to consult a financial planner or tax adviser who is knowledgeable about paying for college for assistance.
Portion Three: Academic Requirements
Using some of the education options from above as a guide, determine the entrance requirements for each so you can make a plan for academics through high school. Options to take specialized or advanced classes may be available as early as middle school to allow for more of the same at the high school level.
Consider whether dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Project Lead the Way or other high school programs will allow your student to earn transferrable credits that cost much less than tuition. School and college counselors can often point students to programs that are most suitable for their goals.
Additionally, explore standardized test score and GPA requirements for admission and for specialized honors, merit or other programs. A goal helps your student understand why it’s worthwhile to complete homework and prepare for the ACT or SAT.
Portion 4: Scholarships
As high school graduation approaches, you and your student can start to look for scholarship opportunities that will provide funding for college or other postsecondary options. Knowing the requirements for earning specific scholarships ahead of time allows your student time to do what is needed to qualify.
Scholarships are often awarded by colleges and corporations for academic or athletic achievement, but other opportunities that don’t require specific accomplishments are available. Check into whether scholarships are offered by parents’ and student’s employers, organizations your student is involved in, community organizations and leagues, local businesses and the state and federal governments, as well as other sources.
Portion 5: Aid Application
Beginning the fall of your student’s senior year in high school, you and your child may begin completing financial aid applications to have a better idea of expected cost. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an online application that you and your student complete to qualify for federal and state aid (including grants, work-study and loans) and for financial aid awarded by colleges. Some colleges also require another application to award aid from their own resources.
Your student need not have made a final college choice when completing financial aid applications, but the colleges listed on the FAFSA that have accepted your student for admission will generate a financial aid award packet that lists your student’s expected costs for attendance, your family’s expected contribution from savings and earnings based on the information provided on the financial aid application, and the aid that college will award your student. These packages are meant to help your family make an informed choice about the program most affordable to your family while still meeting your student’s goals.