When and how to start planning for college depends on the age of your child. If your child is still an infant, planning for college can be as simple as saving a little money every month for future college expenses. You’ll want to start considering the different options available to set money aside for college.
Preparing for college expenses is only one aspect of planning. As your child gets older, you also will need to consider where your child will go to school, what he or she wants to study, and what additional funds may be available to help pay for college.
Use this timeline as a guide to help you start planning for your child's college education:
From Birth to Preschool
- Start saving for college as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the more money you'll have for college.
- Read, play and talk with your child. Studies show that engaged families raise children who will likely become successful.
- Take an active role in your child's education.
During Elementary and Middle School
- Continue to save for college. Make sure that the funds are growing to your expectations.
- Encourage your child to pursue activities he or she is interested in. Extracurricular activities not only look good on a college application, they also improve academic performance.
- Continue to spend quality time with your child and take an active role in his or her education.
During High School
Now is the time to kick your college planning into high gear.
In the 9th Grade:
- Consider enrolling your child in Advanced Placement (AP) courses for college credit. AP courses can help reduce the overall cost of college by enabling your child to earn college credit while still in high school.
- Encourage your child to start considering career options. What might your child like to do? To study? Where?
- Stress the importance of studying and getting good grades. Your child's GPA (Grade Point Average) will play a role in his or her admittance into his or her college of choice.
In the 10th Grade:
- Encourage your child to meet with a school counselor to discuss college options.
- Consider options for college preparatory tests such as the PSAT.
- Attend any college planning workshops/events at your child's school.
- Continue to encourage your child to consider career and school options.
- Encourage your child to get a part-time job. Working helps build character and it also can help contribute to future college costs.
In the 11th Grade:
- In the spring, make sure that your child is registered for the SAT and/or the ACT exams.
- Start to narrow down college choices. Gather applications and visit prospective colleges with your child, if possible.
- Encourage your child to start researching scholarships that may be available. (The deadlines for some scholarship applications is the summer between 11th and 12th grades.)
In the 12th Grade:
- Encourage your child to keep studying. Curb any "senioritis" by reminding your child that his or her senior grades can affect scholarship eligibility.
- Remind your child to solicit letters of recommendation long before college applications are due.
- Work with your child to prepare college applications, paying special attention to instructions and deadlines.
- If your child has been accepted by various colleges, review and compare the offers based on total cost and student aid available.