Talking about money with our parents can be awkward. I know this firsthand because I didn’t have a money conversation with my parent until I was 17 years old. I took my SATs and was applying to all these colleges but I never asked my parents about how we could pay for school. Some part of me believed I would get scholarships or grants or my parents had some hidden stash of cash.
Well, after getting all my acceptance and denial letters, my parents sat me down and said they didn’t have money to send me to school. I was devastated. But, eventually, I came up with a plan to work full-time and save enough cash to pay for my first year at Rutgers University. And I graduated and got my degree in four years.
Now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably applying for schools or completing your FAFSA. Maybe you’ve already spoken to your parents about paying for school. Or maybe you’re hoping, like me, they have this all figured out and they’ll easily hand you a check.
It may be difficult to have this conversation, but the sooner you do the more time you have to come up with a plan.
So how do you talk to your parents about paying for school?
The junior and senior year of high school is typically the time your friends are chatting about colleges. Your teachers and counselors are telling you about financial aid, scholarships, and application deadlines. This makes having a conversation with your parents timely.
I suggest, however, not to wait. Whether your an 11-year old in middle school or a 17-year senior in high school, tell your parents you want to talk about college. Leave a note on the fridge, send a text message, or an email. Let them know you’re thinking about college. This helps set the stage.
Now, the following steps can help you make this conversation less awkward.
Set a time to discuss college
It’s best to prepare and set aside time to have a proper discussion. Springing up the conversation on the ride to school isn’t the best approach.
Script: Mom/Dad, I’ve been thinking about going to college. Can we set a time to talk about it? 1 hour should be fine.
Do your homework so you can share what you’ve learned. Some parents simply don’t know the cost of attending school. Consider the following:
- What major would you like to study? And what’s the average salary of someone in that career?
- What schools interest you right now? How much is tuition?
- Do you want to go away to school? What’s the cost for room and board?
- Would you consider a local two-year community college, then transfer to a four-year?
Create a list of questions
Use these questions to help steer the conversation and keep you focused. The discussion can meander and get off-topic so having questions ready will help. The goal of these questions is to open the dialogue. You’re not looking for definitive answers. Some questions can be:
- Have you planned on me going to college?
- How did you plan to pay for my college education?
- Did you save any money to pay for tuition?
- What schools did you want me to look into? Did you want me to stay close to home?
- Does it make sense for me to work while going to school?
Inform your parents
This is a good opportunity to share the knowledge you’ve learned about paying for school. Attending college is more than just tuition. There are other costs like room and board, fees, textbooks, and equipment. Ask your parents:
- Are you familiar with FAFSA?
- Are you willing to cosign for student loans?
- Do you know about financial aid and the different types available?
Also, let them know you want to be actively involved. And you’ll keep them informed of any college fairs, financial aid seminars, and information you’ve found online or shared by your friends.
Then, share what you’ve learned. It may put your parents at ease knowing there are options available from student loans, scholarships based on financial need or merit, grants, work-study, and other aid to offset the cost of attending.
Getting on the same page
It’s important to ask your parents about your college goals and the plans they have to pay for it. This may be awkward and challenging. But having these conversations earlier can help you create a plan. It’ll also give you more time to learn about all your options.
Understand your parents may not have the financial means but you’ll need them to complete the FAFSA and they can help do research to find scholarships, grants, and speak with financial aid officers. Remember, this is your college education and you’ll need to do a lot of work as well.
Your parents are, maybe like mine were, too busy working to pay for current living expenses, and haven’t thought that far ahead about future college expenses. But I’m sure they want to figure out how to make your dream of going to college a reality.
Learn more about the basics of financial aid and where to find scholarships.