Should I help support or continue supporting my student financially throughout college?
This is perhaps the most-asked question for parents of students entering college. And no matter if or how you decide to finance your child throughout their college years (and beyond), one thing is certain: you must have a clear conversation about money with your young adult.
Make it clear what you will and will not pay for. You may have had financial conversations in the past, but when your young adult is in their first semester of school, it is important to remind them. Making this explicit early will save you headaches later. You may be paying for your student’s tuition, books and rent, but ask that your student takes responsibility for their entertainment, dining out, and clothing purchases. Or, you may not be paying for anything at all and your student will have to rely on financial aid and loans. Be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year that your student is in college. This is used by all colleges and universities to make decisions about financial aid packages, and can help finance your student’s education. All families should submit a FAFSA application, even if you think your student won’t qualify. Marjorie Savage, Education Specialist in Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, says that some families will qualify when they don’t expect to and family financial circumstances can change during a year, so you need to have that base information filed.
Talk to your student about getting a job in college. This may not be something they do right away (or at all), but it could be a great opportunity for them after their first semester. Of course, work that interferes with school is not recommended. Your teen should make sure they can manage their time and keep work from detracting from their studies. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, students working 1-15 hours weekly actually have significantly higher GPAs than both students working 16 or more hours and students who don’t work at all. Stephanie Benson-Gonzales, Assistant Director for Parent Relations and Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the key is working manageable hours. “Even if a parent is contributing a good amount of funds to their student’s education, they may still want to encourage them to get a campus job,” Benson-Gonzales says. Getting a job can not only be a great way to make some money, but it can provide a community of friends for a students, provide real work experience, and help students learn how to manage their own money.
Another important topic to discuss with your teen is applying for credit cards. A lot of college students receive credit card offers, which may look pretty appealing with promises of free gifts and endless money. “It’s so easy to get caught in a bad cycle with credit cards,” licensed professional counselor Dr. Shari Sevier says. “Before long, you are in over your head.” Sevier warns parents to be wary of this and to talk explicitly about responsible credit card use before your student gets into trouble with debt or you end up with a huge bill.
What is right will differ greatly from family to family, but the conversation should always take place. Elizabeth Fishel, co-author of Getting to 30 and a parent, says, “These days, it’s much more likely that the bank of mom and dad stays open through the twenties.” She says this can be a big shock for a lot of parents, and even more shocking when it takes longer than expected to close the bank.
Of course, some young adults have held jobs in high school and may be already supporting themselves in many ways. For these students, parent financial support is more of a luxury than a given. If your student has been paying for a lot of their own things in high school, remind them of the rigor of college. During their first semester of college and beyond, balancing school and work is a lot more challenging than it may have been in high school.