By Cheryl Rapp, Edvest 529 College Savings Plan
January 31, 2023
The thought of attending college can elicit strong emotions in both high school seniors and parents. For students, they are eager for the thought of newfound freedom. For parents, seeing their child venture into the world on their own can be gratifying but also nerve-wracking.
As a parent of 2 children, one of which is in high school, I can relate to all the feelings parents have when preparing their children for college. However, no matter what we feel, preparing for this significant life transition is essential. There are many things to consider while planning for higher education, such as costs, academic programs, location, etc. Whether you’re a student in high school, a parent with a senior, or a parent with a little one, there’s no better time than now to start planning for future higher education.
1. Start Planning Now
Planning for college early in a child’s life is always the best option. Opening a 529 plan can help a parent save over time and provide tax benefits! Most 529 funds can be used for tuition, room and board, laptops, and other qualified expenses. Did you know that a 529 can also be used for various education expenses such as a printer and internet access fees?
Additionally, parents, grandparents, other family members, and friends can help contribute to a 529 plan to help the child with their higher education. In fact, any financial donations from grandparents, including gifts to a 529 account, will not affect the student’s considerations for FAFSA or other financial aid. And they may qualify for tax advantages too.
If planning early isn’t an option, parents should determine as soon as possible how much can be saved before their student starts college. Parents can also consider how much they can contribute to their child’s higher education.
2. Communicate Openly
Both parents and students should strive to have as many conversations as possible about their plans for higher education.
Students and parents should set realistic expectations about the schools they plan to consider and the resources required as early as possible. Additionally, they should work together to research potential schools and their application process.
From my experience being a mom of a high school student, we’ve started the conversation on where they think they might want to go to school and what they might want to major in. Talking has helped tremendously in planning their future education and gives us an idea of overall costs.
3. Research Potential Schools
Choosing the right school for a student can be important for many reasons, like affordability, programs available, or campus life.
If a student is interested in a specific school, it is critical to know when applications are due in order to be considered. Students will want to make sure the school offers a program that matches their desired career or major, the location of the school, and what financial aid they might receive.
Students and parents may also want to tour the campus, even if it’s virtual, before making a conclusive decision. I know from working with families and students in my previous role that a campus might look great to them on paper. But once they visited the campus, they realized it wasn’t the right fit for them and ended up attending a different school.
4. Apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Scholarships
FAFSA is a free form that becomes available every year on October 1st. The earlier parents and students complete this application, the better. This is because some of the funds available are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and may provide you with extra dollars for tuition and other costs. So, mark this important date in your calendar now!
Scholarships are often available year-round and can have different application processes, like filling out a questionnaire or recording a video interview. It’s best to start your scholarship search by looking for those that align with your background, interests, and skills.
5. Prepare for the ACT/SAT
While some colleges no longer require the ACT or the SAT, higher scores may help students qualify for scholarships and financial aid. Parents can assist their students in preparing for the test by helping with studying, finding prep classes, and encouraging or supporting them to take it.
Students can prepare by studying for the exam, taking practice tests, exploring paid tutoring opportunities, and finding out when the tests are available. Many prep classes and practice exams are available online – the College Board is an excellent place to start.
Whether you are a Parent or Student – You Got This!
Now that you are equipped with these five steps, preparing for college will be a breeze. If you want for additional help or information, please continue exploring CSPN’s blog.
About the Author
Cheryl Rapp is the College Investment Program Finance Officer at the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, which oversees Edvest, Wisconsin’s 529 Plan. Edvest has been helping families save for education since 1997. Rapp has over 20 years of experience working for the State as the College Affordability Specialist prior to joining the College Savings Program. Her experience includes educating students, parents, teachers, and school counselors on the value of and how to complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid. In her current role as Investment Finance Officer for the Wisconsin 529 College Savings Program, Rapp manages outreach to Wisconsin residents. She works to increase awareness of the plans among Wisconsin residents while helping them begin saving for their children’s higher education. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in Humanistic Studies.