It’s the time of year again when the temperature in the air has dropped, the sun noticeably sets sooner each day, and the warmth of summer has officially ended. It may be tempting to fall back into your autumn routine, but consider stepping outside of those well-traced paths and learn about what steps you can take to set yourself, and your students, up for sustained success.
There are steps that can be taken at any stage throughout a student’s development and those first steps can start even before elementary school and continue throughout the college years. There are always more advanced initiatives that can be added in each subsequent stage. It is important to share with your financial advisor the percentage of educational costs (or specific dollar amounts) you would like to cover for your child as early as possible, even if you do not intend to provide any additional financial assistance to your student.
During the early years of a child’s life the focus should be on taking a comprehensive look at the household finances. It is generally not advisable to fully fund a child’s education at the expense of your own retirement, and steps should be taken at to pay off your own student loan debt or any other high-interest debt in a way that will set your household up to develop good saving habits with positive cash flow. During this stage it is often helpful to take time to meet with a financial advisor (if you haven’t already) to develop a household financial plan and continue to meet regularly with your advisor throughout the stages of development to ensure that plan continues to meet your family’s needs.
In the transition to, and throughout, elementary school it is imperative that parents take steps to instill a desire to learn in their child. Time spent learning with your child shows the importance you place on their education. Activities such as reading with your child, showing them the reasons behind the things that you do, going over homework with your child, attending school functions, and meeting with your child’s teacher are just some of the ways in which this desire to learn can be nurtured.
Once a child begins middle school, they should be encouraged to start thinking about and getting involved in new and more challenging endeavors. Learning is a continuous process and is not limited to the classroom. Your student should take this time to get involved in different communities, school activities, or hobbies they have shown interest in. It would be beneficial for your child to begin asking different people how they feel about their own career and the path they took to get there. Potential resources include staff at their school, friends of the family, relatives, the parents of their friends, or planned meetings with someone in a profession your child has shown interest in.
High school begins a new chapter for both children and parents. During freshman year, parents should begin to take on more of a support role and really allow their children the freedom necessary to explore different career paths in which they may be interested on their own. The children should continue utilizing the potential resources noted above or sources such as the Career Exploration page on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Helpful items at this stage include continued participation in clubs and extracurricular activities and the guidance counselor at your child’s school. The guidance counselor should be able to meet with your child to discuss potential advanced placement classes or other opportunities that may be beneficial for your child to consider depending on the career or careers in which they have shown the most interest.
During sophomore year the guidance counselor should continue to be a valuable resource. If college appears to be the next step for your child after high school, the guidance counselor should be able to provide information on potential college options, including the requirements for enrollment, so that if a change needs to be made there is time to adjust existing plans. As an additional resource, websites like www.collegedata.com allow visitors to view tuition costs, as well as GPA requirements and other education requirements a college may have. Sophomore year of high school is also the time to tackle an ACT or SAT practice exam so that if additional study time or retakes are needed, there is ample time.
Explore whether it makes sense for your child to pursue a summer job between their sophomore and junior years of high school. Having a summer job could provide numerous benefits beyond a paycheck, such as giving your child hands on experience, starting or widening their potential professional network, and developing a routine of staying engaged year-round. As an alternative to a summer job, there may be programs available to earn college credit that can be taken over the summer.
Early in junior year of high school is the point at which the Preliminary SAT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) should be taken, followed by the ACT or SAT later in the year based on the requirements of the preferred college choices. Free scholarship search tools should be used to find potential scholarships that interest the student and line up with what they would like to accomplish. Avoid any scholarship tools that have application fees or a guaranteed reward if you make a payment, as these are likely to be scams. Exploration of potential college choices should continue, including visits to schools that are high on the student’s list. Many Post-Secondary programs start in the junior year of high school that allow high school students to take courses for college credit that are typically paid for by the high school. Don’t forget to establish a FSA ID for both the student and parent before they are needed. The information the Social Security Administration has on file must match before the FSA ID can be processed, and this may take time to correct.
The focus in the senior year of high school should be on maintaining the current course of action. Hard work should continue in all classes being taken, which hopefully include classes for college credit, including advanced placement courses and/or Post-Secondary opportunities the student has chosen to take advantage of, if they were available. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is released on October 1st and should be completed as soon as is feasible. Any outstanding financial aid applications as well as applications to the schools of choice should be completed during the year with visits to colleges to which the student has been accepted. A comparison of financial aid and scholarship offers should be made to assist any final decision making.
These suggestions are more holistic, more than just an admonition about saving for college expenses. Nurturing a love for learning in your children and helping them develop habits that will propel them forward in their educational journey and in their adult lives is bigger than grades. It’s about preparing children to become healthy and responsible adults. You can talk with a Sequoia advisor today about your education planning goals so that we can assist you in developing and executing your unique plan. Planning will increase the likelihood for you and your family to enjoy sustained success.
For more information on this topic, please contact Jared Cox.