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  • Schedule time to discuss college costs with your child and help them understand how borrowing money for college can impact future finances.
  • Set expectations with your student about if/how you plan to contribute to their education and how your child can earn money to put toward college expenses.
  • Understand what sort of financial aid you might qualify for to help reduce costs.

With visions of attending a dream university dancing in your child’s head, it can be tough to bring finances into the conversation. For most families, funding a college education can be an expensive undertaking that could affect everyone's future finances. Here are some tips for when you and your teen have the tuition talk.

Make time for the cost conversation

You don't want to blindside your child when they are heading out the door for lacrosse practice or sitting down for a cram session. Set a date on the calendar to have the conversation—maybe one night right after a nice family dinner—and let your teen know what you'll be discussing so they can give the subject some thought.

Put costs in context

It might be difficult for a teen to understand how borrowing money for college now could impact them in the future. Crunch some numbers to illustrate what monthly payments on student loans may be and how interest works. In addition, have a frank discussion about the salary expectations that your child should realistically have upon graduation. Depending on the field of study your student wants to pursue, selecting a more affordable college might make sense. For instance, if they plan to pursue a career path that requires an advanced or professional degree, saving money during the undergraduate years might be wise. The My College Plan tool can help you and your student understand how different college choices and majors can impact future finances.

Discuss expectations

Every family is different. Some parents pay their child's entire college costs while others feel it is the student's responsibility, or simply can't afford to help financially. Be honest about where you stand, factor in any savings that can be applied, and share if/how you plan to contribute to your child's education. Also, talk about how your teen could earn some money to put toward school expenses via a part-time job or work study opportunities.

Go over some school options

While the college decision shouldn't be based solely on what it will cost, it is still a very important factor. Try to get a sense of the type of school your teen is interested in, and whether they prefer to live in a dorm on campus or commute. Consider applying to public state institutions, too, which may be more affordable than some private schools. Even if their heart is set on a particular school, it's better to have a few options from which to choose when decision day rolls around.

Understand where you stand with financial aid

Start by discussing your child's likelihood to earn scholarships and awards, and what sort of financial aid you might qualify for based on need. These factors can help reduce the sticker price of an education. There are many online tools, beginning with the Federal Student Aid website, to help you estimate your aid. You can also check with the financial aid offices of your choice schools to see if they offer institutional aid and scholarships.

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