The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.
~Benjamin Spock, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Car
As I contemplated what to do for my next blog post a series of ideas whirled through my head. I thought, as part of my last blog post Beginning your Journey with Student Debt, perhaps I should expand it and include many of the topics I wrote about such as the various repayment methods, the changes in bankruptcy law or budgeting. Despite these wonderful topics, I think it would be better to speak directly to parents for two primary reasons.
First, on July 1 2013 the interest rate of Federal Unsubsidized loans will double. Legislation was not passed to keep these rates low. Those students who are currently in school and those seniors who will be going to school this fall will see their rates increase unless congress retroactively modifies the rate.
Second, the new school year is approaching quickly. It’s the beginning of July and August is hurdling toward us. For parents who have seniors or perhaps juniors this year, your journey in college hunting is about to begin. The year will fly by and before you know it; your student will be a new freshman and off to the time of their life at the university of their choice or so they think.
I don’t envy you all by any means. Many of you will be making the toughest decisions in the highest moments of stress and tension in the coming year. Your student is most likely wide eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to change the world. Of course too, most schools across the nation I would imagine will be asking your student questions like, “Where are you going to college”, “Have you decided on a school yet”, “Are you moving off”, “How many scholarships do you have”, “Are you moving with your friends” and so on. Unfortunately, your student may want an education on a Porsche budget while you have a Honda budget. So what do you do?
There are a few things I really feel I need to mention.
First, you’re not a bad parent if you aren’t capable of sending your child to Harvard or the local state school. Budgets are tight. Money is hard to come by. Most states defunded higher education since 2008 as their budgets grew tighter. This means more of the cost has been shifted to consumers. Realize if you aren’t capable it doesn’t make you a bad parent. It only makes you a parent who doesn’t have a Porsche budget like many other parents across our country. It simply means you and your student need to be more creative, wiser and plan better than every other student. It means accepting that perhaps there is no graduating “on time”.
Second, you’re the voice of sanity in this hunt for a college. In the hunt, you’re purpose is to act as the voice of reason reminding your child that even though the college has a 100,000 seat stadium, a recreational center complete with indoor heated swimming pool and rock climbing wall, a full scale restaurant in the cafeteria, and if you looked hard enough probably gold plated toilet seats their purpose is not to enjoy the amenities but to obtain an education and most importantly start a fulfilling career.
That is also to say that it is your role to help them understand what $5,000 or $15,000 per semester actually means. To help them with a budget, a course roadmap to graduation, and most importantly how to understand the full cost of the journey they are embarking on. That is not to say you shouldn’t let them make their own decision, rather you should counter balance what they are told with what you have experienced.
Third, do not make a decision or let your child make a decision based on a snap judgment and an emotional situation. the more I have spoken with parents and seen parents speak to college decisions the more I have come to believe that our education system is built on parents and students being emotionally charged and making rash decisions. Earlier in this post, I mentioned the questions your student will be asked during their senior year. In that list, I was trying to exaggerate slightly while at the same time being slightly serious. Your student is expecting positive attribution from their peers. They may not be completely aware of the consequences of that attribution. That is, they won’t fully grasp what it means to move off to a college, live in the dorms, have a meal plan, and take a full load of classes and perhaps continuing holding a relationship. Likewise, they may be enamored by the host of amenities a college has but failed to look for a college that will offer their major. Likewise, they may not know what that major translates into after they graduate. So this is what I mean by being a counter balance and not rushing into a decision. Take your time, look, understand what kind of major they may want. Many schools offer personality tests for new incoming freshman that takes their interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes and personality wraps them up in a single list of what majors most likely will fit them the best. That list can be taken and explored on a website like the US Bureau of Labor Statisticswhere you can learn what that job includes, what the pay entails, where are jobs found, what are the working conditions like, and other pieces of vital information for finding a job.
Finally, teach your child how to decide not what to decide. Essentially, when your child leaves your home and moves off to college much of the leverage you have is gone. That means you need to ensure you equip your child with the skills they need to survive. The most important skill is financial literacy. That is how to make a budget, pay their bills on time and most importantly how to plan for unexpected events. If you yourself are not doing any of these things, then your child most likely won’t either. Your student is learning from you. That said, my favorite program for this is Dave Ramsey’s process. I disagree with some of his steps; however, overall it lays a good foundation for how to budget, save and plan. I would also encourage you to do it with your student. If they are living at home with you and attending a junior college, it’s the perfect time to try to teach them while learning yourself.
Best wishes and happy hunting for the college of your student’s choice. Be wise, ask questions, and most importantly learn what you can. Groups, blogs, and entire communities exist to help you walk through this process. Ubind is one of those communities. Feel free to contact us and ask questions. There are no stupid questions just those which go unasked.
Disclaimer: I am not paid by, endorsed by, or have any affiliation with Dave Ramsey. I am a fan and use his steps myself for money management. They have worked for me and I am confident will work for you.