Your child’s final year in high school will be a bittersweet experience. Homework will fall to the wayside as “senioritis” kicks in and teachers will understand that, piling on less work. Daughters will try on one-hundred different prom dresses until they find the perfect fit. Sons will don their varsity jackets one last time while looking forward to the night’s football game. One by one, as names are called at graduation tears will be shed by parents, children, family and friends. That final year in high school will be relaxing, sad, exciting, and provide a once in a lifetime feeling of moving forward. However, that final year of high school will also be a year of big decisions:
- Is college in your child’s future?
- If yes, which college? – A very loaded question!
- How will we pay for a college education?
These questions are not easy to answer, especially when parents are divorced. Fortunately there are approaches to college planning that can reduce stress for everyone involved.
Get on the same page
Your child, your ex-spouse, and yourself may all have different ideas over what is the best plan after high school. Your child may dream of an Ivy League university. You may feel that a highly ranked in-state school is the best option. Your ex-spouse may feel that the local community college is the way to go. Opinions will vary.
As parents, it is essential to reach a compromise. While compromise is challenging even in the best of circumstances, it is important to have a thoughtful discussion as parents, not ex-spouses, and collaborate with one another and your child as you consider college and your child’s future. If the discussions are rife with disagreement and conflicting advice, your child will be confused, potentially resentful of one or both parents, and find it increasingly difficult to make this important decision about their future. Conversely, by being on the same page with one another, you and your ex-spouse will be able to jointly present a well thought out plan to your child. This has a number of benefits, including: demonstrating to your child that they, and their future, are of primary interest to both parents; the increased likelihood of buy-in from your child; the avoidance of your child being pulled in multiple directions; and treating them as the young adult they have grown to become.
Questions to help reach a compromise
- Finances- Has money been set aside for college? Do you expect your child to take out loans? If yes, how much? How much financial aid will you receive, if any? Will your child receive awards or scholarships? How will textbooks, housing, meals, and incidentals be paid for?
- Where will they go to school? In or out of state? If in-state, will they commute or live on campus? Will it be a public or private institution? Are they interested in a campus environment or more of a city-like environment? Are they interested in a large school or a small student population? Is community college an option?
- Do they have a major in mind? Some schools specialize in certain areas. For example, one university may be well known for their nursing program, while another may have a stellar reputation for their finance, technology or international studies program. Does your child already envision attending graduate school, and how should that affect the choice of college?
- What does your child want? Take into consideration what your child wants to do. If they are comfortable taking out loans, take their wishes seriously and consider it among the range of options.
These questions require a lot of information and thought. Be organized with your planning and write it all down. Share it with your co-parent and plan meetings to discuss college with one another, your child, and their high school’s guidance department.
One of the best ways to get to know a college is to visit. Online information and pictures are helpful, but to really find out what a school is all about you need to visit. Visiting a school has numerous benefits:
- See the campus- Get an up-close look at the campus. This will give you a solid grasp on how large the campus is, the distance between housing and lecture halls, class sizes, and the breadth of extracurricular activities. For example, some universities are so large they require students to ride a shuttle or bus to get from their dormitory to their classroom. Other schools require just a two-minute walk from dorm to classroom.
- See the dorms - You will want to know the conditions of the building and room where your child could eventually be living. Most campus tours show you a sample dorm room. You’ll be able to make sure the building is up to any standards you may have, and know what furnishings may be required.
- Up to date information - You’ll receive the latest pamphlets and papers with information that may not yet be available online.
- First-hand experiences - Most college tours are given by currently enrolled students. They can tell you the pros and cons of the college that may not be listed on official websites. They can also highlight fun events and perks that come with attending that college.
Campus visits may be hard to plan if you and your co-parent are not comfortable going together with your child. There is an easy solution to this problem: take your child to visit the college twice! You may even get a different tour guide, allowing your child to receive a second first-hand account. Take turns visiting the colleges that are under consideration. One parent may not be able to join for a college visit due to scheduling conflicts, but still wants to be involved in the process. Use the document sharing features of Zimplified to ensure your co-parent has the same information you have, to keep everyone in sync and enable effective college planning.
Listen and encourage
It is possible that you and your co-parent will have a different plan in mind than your child. You and your co-parent may be in full agreement about your child living at home and commuting to school. Your child may feel differently. Do not completely dismiss your child’s desire to leave home. There is much to be gained from the experience of living on-campus. Living on campus makes it easier to meet new people, become independent, and develop a deeper appreciation of family. However, living on campus is much more expensive, can be difficult to adjust to, and some students find it more difficult to keep up with studies when away from home. Remind your child to keep these things in mind:
- College is expensive. Adding the cost of living on campus further increases the financial commitment and burden. Have your child consider how much student debt they are willing to assume and a plan to pay it off.
- What does the college experience mean to you? Living away from home for the first time can be a life-changing experience.
- Do you expect to be homesick? Family may be far away depending on the college your child chooses. Will they be able to effectively cope with the distance?
Do not dismiss your child’s wants, but encourage them to think logically. It may turn out that your co-parent does not feel that a college education is necessary for your child. This can be a difficult situation. If your child has the aptitude, is capable of being accepted into college and, depending on your personal situation, paying for it, a college education should be encouraged. In this situation, it becomes even more important for co-parents to remain civil, avoid personal attacks, and work with your child to find solutions to reach a compromise.
It may be an equally difficult situation if your child does not want to go to college. They may have everything planned for what they will do once they leave high school. Perhaps they plan to attend trade school. Take their ambitions into consideration and use your best judgment. If your child seems directionless, it may be useful to have them work with their school guidance department. They can also take a career aptitude test, an excellent way to explore job and career options.
Planning for college can be stressful for everyone involved. If your child is being bombarded by others’ opinions on what the right path to take is, they can easily become overwhelmed or feel pressured and make a sub-optimal choice. To help your child make clear-headed decisions, collaborate with your co-parent and child to develop a college plan that fits their needs best.
Remember, planning for college and the future should be an exciting experience! Do your part to help keep it productive, and gently guide your child towards a future full of successes.
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