Talking to Your Child About Paying for College

Kat Tretina Published on September 30, 2019

paying for college

When you were in college, you could reasonably expect to pay for it by working a part-time job. However, that’s not the case now for your children. When adjusted for inflation, the cost of college has risen 213 percent over the past 30 years. If you don’t have enough money to pay for your child’s education, they’ll likely have to explore other financing options, like grants or student loans.

It’s important to talk to your child about college costs early on so they can prepare; if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a guide on how to talk to your child about paying for college.

When to start the conversation

It’s a good idea to talk to your children about college as soon as they’re in high school. If they’ll have to cover some or all of the cost themselves, having the conversation early on gives them time to boost their grades to qualify for scholarships or to take on part-time work to raise money to pay for a portion of their expenses.

If you haven’t talked to your children yet and they’re in their junior or senior years of high school, it’s not too late! Sit down with them as soon as you can so you can come up with a comprehensive plan together.

Topics to discuss

When you talk with your child, come up with a list of major topics to discuss ahead of time so you don’t forget anything. Make sure you leave time for your child to ask any questions they may have, and be prepared to speak frankly about money.

Cost of college

Your child likely has no idea how much college actually costs, or how expensive it really is relative to a household’s income.

According to The College Board, a four-year degree from a public university costs $85,480, on average. If your child wants to go to a private school, that number jumps to $194,040.

You can help your child understand just how much money that is by explaining what they can expect to earn after graduation. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for 2018 college graduates was just $50,004. For students who have inflated expectations on their earning potential, those numbers can be a sharp wakeup call and can help them adjust their goals.

School choice

Talk with your child about how school choice will affect their costs. Opting for their dream school — whether it’s an Ivy-League university or a college in an exotic location — can cause them to spend thousands more per year on their education.

You can also show them the prices differences between private schools and public schools, and outline how much they’d save over the course of four years by opting for a cheaper option.

How much you can contribute

If you have saved some money to help your child pay for school, share with them how much you’ve saved and how much of their education you think it’ll cover. Having that information will prepare them so they can pay for the rest themselves.

If you haven’t been able to build up college savings, don’t beat yourself up. Many families can’t afford to do so. Just be honest with your child about your finances so they can get a clear picture.

Loans

If you don’t have money saved for college but you still want to help your child pay for school, talk about what parent student loans you’re willing to take out and how much you’ll borrow.

As a parent, you can take out federal Parent PLUS Loans or private parent loans to cover the cost. With this approach, you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance, including room and board costs. Parent loans are solely in your name, so you’re responsible for the repayment — not your child.

Other financing options

If your child will have to pay for some or all of their education themselves, you can help them explore other financing options:

  • Living options: If you’re willing to allow your child to stay at home, you can help them compare the costs of living at home and commuting to school versus living on campus and paying for room and board. Skipping the dorms can help them save thousands of dollars.
  • Scholarships: If your child is academically or athletically gifted, they may qualify for scholarships which will help reduce their education costs. Scholarships are often offered by schools, but your child can also search for and apply for scholarships on FastWeb and Scholarships.com. They can even combine multiple scholarships to dramatically lower their expenses.
  • Grants: If your child has a demonstrable financial need, they may qualify for federal or school grants, which don’t have to be repaid.
  • Federal work-study programs: With a federal work-study program, the school helps your child find a part-time job related to their field of study. Your child can use their earnings to offset some of their education costs.
  • Part-time work: Working nights, weekends, and during the summer can help your child save money for school.
  • Federal student loans: If your child will need to borrow money to pay for school, federal student loans tend to offer the lowest interest rates and most favorable repayment terms.
  • Private student loans: If your child still needs money to cover their education costs, private student loans can help fill the gap.

You can ensure your child gets all the financial aid they’re entitled to by helping them complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid during their senior year.

Paying for college

College is expensive, so it’s important to talk to your child early on so they understand how much it’ll cost, how much you can afford to contribute, and how much they’ll have to pay for themselves.

If your child will need to take out private student loans, make sure you compare offers from multiple lenders to get the lowest rates. You can use Purefy’s Compare Rates tool to review quotes from the best lenders.