When and How to Talk to Your Children About College Costs

At Needham Bank, our goal is to provide you with resources to improve your financial know-how. That’s why we’ve partnered with Campus Bound, a company that helps students and families navigate the challenging and exciting college search, application, and financial aid process. Read their article for strategies for healthy and helpful conversations to have with your student about the cost of college, which can be a critical element of a college search.

If you’re like most parents, having the college financials discussion with your teen is something that you would prefer to avoid. However, since borrowers currently owe around $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, it’s clearly an issue worth discussing. Learn about when and how to have these discussions with your student.

The earlier the better

When is the best time to have this conversation? It’s never too early. Start telling your kids that college is expensive and that scholarships, loans, etc. may play a role in the decision about which college they attend. You don’t need to give specific figures, but letting them know that cost is a factor ensures they won’t be blindsided.

Don’t wait until decision day

The last thing you want is for your child to go through the college search and application process having no idea that the cost will play a role in the final decision about where they will attend. In their world, no news is good news; if you don’t have the conversation with them early, they will assume cost isn’t a factor. They will surge forward without regard for how it will be paid. If you wait until April to tell them that they can’t attend their “dream college” because you can’t afford it, they will be beyond disappointed.

What if you don’t know

If you aren’t sure if you will need, or qualify for, financial aid, you’re not alone. It’s extremely confusing. One of the most helpful things you can do is get advice and information early. Starting when your child enters high school, research and read up on how the financial aid process works.

Topics to discuss

Here is a list of the general discussion points parents should have with their children about paying for college:

  1. Whether or not the cost of college will have to play a role in the decision about where they attend, and to what extent.
  2. Financial aid possibilities: federal student loans, private loans, scholarships, merit aid, work-study, etc.
  3. The pros and cons of taking out loans to pay for college.
  4. The dangers of credit card debt.
  5. How to set a budget, both while in college, and after.