If you’re lucky enough to have family able to help pay for college, it will help to know just how much they can contribute. Talking about money with your parents can be awkward, but it is important to have clear understanding of your financial and academic future—even if that means having an uncomfortable conversation.
Now that financial aid season is here, there is an easy way to open this conversation. Your financial aid package will likely include loans, grants, or scholarships. While you should definitely do some research prior to your conversation, it is easiest to broach this subject by asking questions regarding financial terms or consequences (i.e. which loans will suit your situation). Sometimes colleges will take this step for you by requiring completion of a college-sponsored course in loan acceptance plans. Discussing whether or not you or your family should take out loans can lead to a broader question: “How are we paying for college?
Constructing clear expectations for yourself and your future is also an important part of becoming financially responsible. How much are you expected to contribute? What are your means of doing so: scholarships, loans, work-study, working part-time, taking a summer job before going to college? On the other hand, how much are your parents willing to contribute? Will they be responsible for living expenses, tuition, or a set amount per semester? Does their contribution depend upon your grades?
Paying for college is more than just tuition and books. There are many hidden fees and trivial living expenses to take in account, including phone bills, car or health insurance, and entertainment utilities (like Netflix or Spotify). Ask what utilities your parents are willing to continue to pay for, and if you will need to help with a portion of the bill. Discuss insurance and possible doctor billing, as well, especially if you are a student with a disability or chronic illness. Should you be commuting from home, will you be paying rent or utilities?
Lastly is the subject of spending money. Those moving away for college may not immediately come into a stable job or have the time or energy for a job while studying full-time. Until a secure source of income is obtained by the student—be that during or after college years—they will need to discuss with their parents about having pocket money to spend on things like food, school club fees, transportation, or entertainment.
Creating a mock budget—using any available scholarships, work-study, and family aid as income resources—with the parents will give particular insight about living life as a young adult. Ask for advice on credit cards (there are many scams and high-interest rates targeting students, so be careful!), prioritizing investments or savings versus paying off debts, and how to shop for food and necessities on a budget. These questions will ensure your family that you won’t be irresponsibly using funds and instead will be actively involved in financing your education.
• Do research on financial aid and budgeting prior to the conversation
• Use your financial aid report/s to begin asking financial questions
• Construct clear expectations for both your personal and family contribution, maybe by including some hard numbers or grade requirements
• Ask about staying on utility and insurance plans, especially if it has a family discount
• Determine amounts of spending money per month/semester, should it be provided
• Create a mock budget that summarizes your discussion and update it when other sources of income (like scholarships or a new job) become available. This budget will be a good resource during college years.
• Remember to keep applying for scholarships to keep costs down!