Getting your children involved in saving for college

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Most articles about college planning focus on advice for parents or other adults who expect to pay the cost for a younger person's education. But what about the beneficiary who plans to attend college? Children can earn money, learn about sources of financial aid, research potential colleges, and take other steps that may relieve their parents of some of the responsibility of college planning.

Starting early

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the best time to introduce children to college planning is when they are in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. You may want to initiate discussions about college and explain the importance of developing good study habits and getting involved in extracurricular activities — to instill the idea that your family supports higher education.
You may also want to encourage your children to begin thinking about the career they would like to pursue, which is likely to influence their choice of college, as well as to establish a savings account that could be earmarked for education expenses. In addition, you can teach basic lessons about compounding, investing, and other money management issues.
When students are in the latter part of middle school, they can also start planning to make the most of high school experiences with an eye toward college. Remind your budding scholar that success in high school depends on skills and attitudes that are developed in middle school or earlier. You can help your child plan for college by assisting him or her with developing a realistic budget. The chart below details enrollment-weighted averages and is intended to illustrate the costs that a student is likely to pay in various situations.1
Budgeting Basics
  Tuition and Fees Books and Supplies Room and Board Trans­port­ation Other Expenses Total Expenses*
Two-Year Public
Commuter $3,435 $1,364 $8,003 $1,774 $2,257 $16,833
Four-Year Public
In-State $9,410 $1,298 $10,138 $1,109 $2,106 $24,061
Out-of-State $23,893 $1,298 $10,138 $1,109 $2,106 $38,544
Four-Year Private
Resident $32,405 $1,249 $11,516 $1,033 $1,628 $47,831
1Sources: The College Board, Trends in College Pricing, 2015, and Trends in Public Higher Education, 2015.
*Based on estimated average student expenses. Average total expenses include room and board costs for commuter students, which are average estimated living expenses for students living off-campus but not with parents.
Young people can assume varying levels of responsibility for college planning depending on their age and interests. Consider the following if you are looking to get a middle or high school student involved.
6th to 8th grades
  • Continue good study habits
  • Enhance computer and Internet skills
  • Participate in arts activities or sports
  • Start saving money
9th to 10th grades
  • Enroll in college-preparatory classes
  • Establish high academic standards
  • Research careers that match personal aptitudes
  • Learn about college costs
  • Identify prospective colleges
  • Research financial aid and scholarships
  • Set aside money from babysitting, yard work, or other odd jobs for college expenses
11th to 12th grades
  • Get a part-time job and continue saving for college
  • Visit colleges of potential interest
  • Take the Scholastic Aptitude Test
  • Enroll in Advanced Placement classes, if available
  • Apply to colleges and for financial aid

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