The financial adjustment from high school to college is complicated and intimidating. In my family, as my older daughter completes her senior year of high school right now, that area of adjustment to college is already beginning. Here are some key areas of the financial adjustment and some tips for supporting your college student:

Understanding Tuition Costs and Financial Aid

My daughter has been accepted to several colleges, with varying tuition costs and financial aid packages. Her decision on where to attend college has wide-ranging, life-long implications for our entire family in many ways, not the least being financial. We’re in the midst of conversations about what it means to have student loans, how much debt my family currently has, and how much we are able to contribute to her education, all depending on what school she goes to. We’re also discussing priorities in terms of holding a job and managing expenses. For my daughter, this is the first time she has had to seriously consider these issues, but it’s certainly not the last! She will need to get familiar with the financial aid office, and, with our support and assistance, navigate the process of paying for college.

  • Include your student in the decisions related to paying tuition and other college bills
  • Involve your student in communications with the financial aid office (maybe even have them initiate some of these!)

Developing Budgeting and Financial Literacy Skills

The financial adjustment will continue throughout in my daughter’s first year of college. College students need to learn how to independently manage money. For many students, it may be the first time they don’t have ongoing guidance from family about these money issues. I expect that it will be hard for my daughter to learn how to budget over the course of a semester or academic year, so that she doesn’t run out of the funds she’ll be earning over summer and winter break. She’ll need to avoid temptations to spend frivolously, and will need to be aware of her own limitations, even if those are challenged by peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. It’ll also be important for her to learn about the dangers of high-interest credit cards and debt, so that she can avoid endangering her future credit rating.

  • Touch base periodically about managing spending money and expenses
  • Share information about credit cards, interest rates and credit scores

Finding and Managing a Job

While my daughter has had a job since she was fifteen years old, working during her college years will be a new experience for her. She will need to work to pay for ongoing expenses, whether that job is during breaks, during the semester, or both. Research shows that students who work under 20 hours per week in college tend to do just fine academically. From my experience with college students, those with jobs often find that they are more mindful of their time management strategies and tend to be more productive with the added structure that a job provides. I have my fingers crossed that my daughter will be able to find a good job on campus during her first year!

  • Help your student determine how much they can expect to earn by working during school breaks
  • Discuss the possibility of finding a job on campus during the academic year

While the financial adjustment will be a really big deal for my daughter, this upcoming year will be a time of financial adjustment for my husband and me too, of course. Just as I will encourage my daughter to use campus resources during her first year, I expect that I’ll be doing the same: talking to my state’s college planning center, the college’s financial aid office, and my accountant. It’s important to ask for help when we need it!

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