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Help your child get through college without spending a dime

by Bethany

If you’re a parent and didn’t prepare for your child’s college years it’s going to be ok. Let’s put the guilt and shame aside right now. It’s too late to start a 529 plan. Instead, it’s time for you to take action in other ways. 

I’m not going to suggest Parent PLUS loans either.  You know when the airline attendant says to always put on your own mask first before helping others?  That’s the same general rule for finances. You don’t need to put yourself in debt to help your child pursue their dreams. 

You should never jeopardize your retirement or finances for their college education. Loans are always an option. If you’re financially able, go for it. However, there are ways to help your child with college that don’t require you to write a check. 

Take it from me 

Rally tan me (on the right) with a Masters Degree

I know. I’m not a parent, so why the heck am I writing about this? Where’s my cred? 

If you didn’t know I have $76,000 of student loan debt that I am currently paying off. The reasons I took on so much debt are numerous (and will soon make an appearance on the blog). Still, throughout all of my college years, I had absolutely zero support from my parents. Not just financially, but emotionally and otherwise. 

There were things I had to figure out. There were things I didn’t figure out because I didn’t have the bandwidth to do so at the time. I could’ve really used some support throughout college that had nothing to do with the money. 

So, take it from someone who put herself all the way through grad school working 4 jobs and still ended up in debt. If you do any of the following things from this list, you’re helping your child so much

10 ways you can help your child get through college 

Some of these ideas involve a small amount of money. But most of these suggestions involve your time and attention. Those are some of the most valuable things for children. 

1. Talk about money and student loans early on

Involve your kids in money conversations as young as you possibly can. Talk about the risks and rewards with money. This can give your children a strong financial foundation they can use to figure out how to pay for college. 

Don’t harp on how awful student loans are. I mean they are terrible, but sometimes you can’t avoid them. It should be a conversation with the facts. If you didn’t save for your kid’s college, chances are they will have to take out at least one loan. They should know every consequence of this and which ones to choose. (Hint: Always go with federal student loans first).

2. Drive your kids to college tours 

Oh man. Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Snacks, music and one too many pit stops will make a lasting memory for you and child. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you took the time to tour college campus with them. This way you’ll know the ins and outs as well. 

3. Help your child compare programs 

Choosing an affordable program for college may not be at the top of your child’s to-do list. This is where you come in.  Do some research with them and compare programs. 

Create a spreadsheet if that’s your thing. Look at college tuition in state and out-of-state. See if the community college offers any transfer programs. If they want to go to a fancy private school, then definitely break down the cost in comparison with nearby schools who have similar programs. 

4. Provide your kids with all the information needed on the FAFSA

When your child fills out the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA), they’ll need your information. This includes basic contact information, your living situation, and financial circumstances.  Your child is most likely considered a dependent student when applying for aid if they’re getting their undergraduate degree. You can investigate the dependency status more on the Federal Student Aid website

I can’t even tell you how frustrating it is to not have the required information from you (the parent) on time. In order for your child to get some grants and scholarships, they need to submit their FAFSA on time. Don’t be what stops them from getting free money for school. Better yet, fill it out together. 

5. Work on college applications together 

College applications are going to take some serious effort. Help your child write their essay or fact check their application. Call the school’s admissions office to see if you can get a code to waive the application fee. All of these would be great ways to support them in the application process. 

6. Create and curate a scholarship application calendar 

Applying for scholarships can be a full-time job. You can help your child by finding scholarships they could be eligible for using a search engine. There are many out there to pick from.

You can go one step further and create a scholarship application calendar to help them not miss any deadlines. Maybe even have reminders set to shoot them a text.

7. Offer for your child to stay at home while in school 

Living expenses are another cost associated with going to college. It’s not always possible, but if the school is within driving distance, offer to have your child stay at home while in school. 

8. Assist with expenses outside of school (if you can) 

Paying for books, fees, and even groceries can really add up for students. If you can’t afford tuition, maybe you can afford a $200 per month grocery stipend. Just a small bit to help your student get through school. 

9. Offer to edit and review papers or projects 

The numbers of pages I wrote in my first year of college surpassed 200. Not everyone will be going after a liberal arts degree, but no matter what, your child will be doing some college writing. If you’re a natural wordsmith, offer to read over and edit their papers. 

If they have a large project, invite them to the house to finish it. Give them advice and assistance.

10. Don’t push them to go to college if they don’t know what they want to do

If your child doesn’t know what they want to do or study in school, then don’t push them into it. It’s pushing them into taking on debt or having to pay for a degree that may not be valuable to them in the future. Give it time. Let them figure it out and cheer them on.  (Which I’m sure you already are!)

Is it too late to help? 

It doesn’t matter where your child is on their college journey, it’s never too late to help.  I can’t promise that reaching out their last year of grad school will be received with hugs and tears. However, the things you can do to help them are still very real. 

Maybe the ideas listed above don’t apply to your situation.  If that’s the case, be direct with your child. You could say, “I want to help you with college. I can’t give you money, but I want to be there for you. What do you need?” 

Don’t expect your child to know what they need right away. It might take some time to figure out what your child may need from you. If they’ve been fielding college all on their own for several years, an apology of not being there may be a part of what they need. 

Helping your child with college can look different for each parent. Whatever you do, stay present and supportive. It’ll be remembered. (Take it from this kid) 

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