The Parent and Stepparent Guide to Preparing Kids for College: Part 2

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsiblity and the wings of independence.” -Denis Waitley

This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on how to prepare your kids or stepkids for college. To read Part 1, click here.

Finances can be one of the biggest issues in a marriage. In fact, according to a survey of 50,000 couples conducted by Ron L. Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily Marriage, “Happy couples showed at least 80 percent agreement on what they would spend their money on, but unhappy couples had less than half that rate of agreement.” Obviously, finances can make or break a relationship, so that’s why it’s important to communicate about large expenses, such as college.

If you have teenagers, you’ve probably had the conversation with your partner about college. How will you afford it? Who will pay for it? This is complicated even further by stepfamily dynamics. What if you are a childless stepmom, but your husband has three children- do you both contribute to your stepchildren’s college funds? What if you have two children of your own and your husband has two children? Looking at college costs can be daunting for parents, and even more so for stepparents. What if your child or stepchild doesn’t seem that interested in their education? Do you pay for their college expenses?

As an academic advisor, I have met with countless students who are in their 20s, who started college just after high school, but ended up failing out of school. What happened?

Some common explanations:

“I didn’t care about school then.”

“My parents really wanted me to go to school. But I was young, and I wasn’t into it, so I failed most of my classes.

“I was more concerned about making money back then. So I got a job, and stopped going to classes. School wasn’t important to me.”

Tip #2: Allow kids to work towards a goal to finance their college education.

After my eye-opening experience of working with so many college students, I don’t think it’s best for the parents to just assume that their kids will go to college, and the parents will be the ones paying for it. Instead, I recommend evaluating the situation on a case-by-case basis. You can look at your finances and how invested the child seems to be in their own education. Talk to your partner about who will pay for college early on, and make sure to share what you feel comfortable with or what you are willing to do. Then both of you should talk to the child about what kind of support you’ll be providing, and what they should be doing if they are committed to going to college.

How can I practice this?

Encourage your kids to start looking into scholarships early.

Future college students can start by looking at community colleges, as many community colleges have pathways to the universities and may provide scholarships to local students. For instance, I am an academic advisor at one of the largest community college districts in the United States. My community college offers a Presidents’ Honors Scholarship for students who have attended an in-county high school and have a 3.25 GPA or higher. This scholarship covers four semesters of a 15-credit load, which would essentially pay for an Associate’s degree. However, many students aren’t aware of this scholarship, and some of them miss the required GPA by a small percentage. That’s why I encourage students to start looking early, have a goal in mind, and then they can work towards that goal while they are in high school.

Another important tip with scholarships is that while HS GPA is important, even more important is a well-rounded student with volunteer/community service experience. Scholarship reviewers look for students who have a variety of experiences, such as volunteer/community service experience, work experience, and extracurricular activities. They aren’t just looking for students with a 4.0 GPA. If they have numerous students with a 4.0 GPA, what distinguishes these students? What sets them apart? That’s where their other experiences will come into play.

Check out the RaiseMe Scholarship App

RaiseMe is a free scholarship app that students can download. Students create a profile, and enter information about themselves, such as their grades and job experience. Students receive a certain amount of money for each “A” that they get, or for their club involvement or volunteer experience. This money goes into a “bank” that they can use when they attend a participating university. It’s a win-win situation because the universities get students who are well-prepared for college, while the students get scholarship money applied to their tuition costs.

Encourage kids to get a part-time job

Of course, you can always encourage your children or stepchildren to get a part-time job and start saving for college. This will provide them with valuable work experience and enable them to save or learn how to budget their money. Overall, remember that the more you step back and allow them to figure out things on their own, the more they will grow.

Click here to read Part 3 in the series.