In the Open: Talk to Your Child
When it comes to your child's hopes to continue his education, communication is key. If you haven't had this conversation yet, bring it up, the sooner the better. If he initiates the conversation, be a patient and attentive listener. Ask questions. How much research has he done? Has he talked to his school counselor? Does he have any idea where he wants to go to school? Has he thought about how to pay?
If you have concerns, be honest about them, but keep an open mind. Look back at the Possible Concerns section on this page to see how you might overcome your fears. Be open to what's possible.
The Road Ahead: Make a Plan
After you and your child or the child in your care have talked about her hopes for postsecondary education, it's time to make a plan, regardless of what grade she's in. It's never too soon or too late to start planning. It makes everything a lot easier.
With a plan, everything is out in the open. There are no hidden obstacles lurking in the back of your mind. Chances are some of those roadblocks will seem easier to get around once you put them in writing.
There are many free online resources that can help with your planning, starting with this site:
You should never have to pay for information about college planning and financing.
Some companies make the process seem more difficult and confusing than it really is, in hopes of getting your business. There is simply no need to pay for information that is readily available for free. See Be Money Smart for more information.
Making It Happen: Supervise and Support
After you plan, it's time for action. Decide what roles you and your child or the child in your care should play. What you decide will be based on your unique family situation.
You probably don't want to be a "helicopter parent;" the type that hovers over the child throughout his school career, sometimes making college decisions without even consulting the child.
Don't be at the other extreme either, by doing nothing to help him continue his education. Find the right balance.
Think of yourself as the key supporter of this project. Make sure your child takes care of important tasks by certain dates. Praise his good performance and provide supportive correction when he isn't measuring up. And be there to handle things that only a parent or primary caregiver can.
"I have the backing of my mom. Like, with her experience, she's really there to help me and let me know that I'm where I'm supposed to be."
Austin Community College
The Basics: Play Your Part
Planning aside, there are some basic things you can do to help your child prepare to continue her education. Of course, every family situation is unique. There may be only so much you can do, based on your work schedule, your financial situation and other family commitments. The important thing is that you stay involved and offer meaningful help where and when you can:
Talk to her teachers and counselors. Let them know that you support her educational goals and ask for their help and support, too. Ask teachers and counselors to tell you about anything that concerns them about her progress. Stay in contact with them throughout the school year, every year.
Set realistic academic expectations. Monitor your child's schoolwork habits and performance and let him know that you expect him to work hard.
Make sure he takes challenging classes and applies himself
Watch out for signs that he is struggling, as he may try to hide them
If he is having trouble, see if you can help, or, if possible, help find a tutor for him. Ask his counselor for recommendations
Grades are definitely important, but your main focus should be that he is doing his best and challenging himself.
Enforce limits. Kids today have more distractions than ever. You know your child and her work habits. Let her know that you expect her to put school and her college plans first. That means limiting her time socializing with friends (whether in person, on the phone or on the Internet), playing video games, watching TV, surfing the Web or even working at an after-school job.
Be his biggest cheerleader. Healthy self-esteem is so important to a child's success. Your praise and approval are critical. When you celebrate his accomplishments, he sees that you're always paying attention, not just when he falls short. On the other hand, don't overdo it. Kids can sense when you're being sincere and when you're not.
Introduce her to the world of work. Many kids worry that they shouldn't continue their education after high school because they haven't decided on a career. Let your child know that that's perfectly normal. At the same time, help her understand what it means to have a job and a career:
Point out how some of her interests and talents might connect with a career. For instance, does she love music or play an instrument? Mention that aside from being a musician, there are dozens of other jobs, such as recording engineer or concert promoter, where a love of music is the starting point.
If she has already mentioned an interest in a certain career, help her explore it. Maybe you know someone in that field who might be willing to talk to her about it. Look for books, magazine articles and newspaper items that might stoke her interest.
Share your experience. Do you have a fulfilling career? Talk to her about the path you took to get there. Are you dissatisfied with your employment path? Discuss things you might have done differently and help her learn from your example.
Help him pursue his interests. Colleges like to see activities outside of school on student resumes. These activities can also help your child discover subjects that might interest him in college and maybe point to a career. Encourage him to try any positive activity that truly interests him, and provide any support you can to help him stick with the ones he really loves.
Be her sounding board. From choosing a school, to coping with test anxiety, to keeping her grades up, she has a lot to deal with on her path to continue her education. Keep the lines of communication open:
Let her know she can talk to you about her hopes, dreams and fears. Be as positive as you can, even when you think she's being a little unrealistic. That doesn't mean you can't speak up when you think she's making a serious error in judgment ” that's part of your job as her parent or primary caregiver.
Help her look at all sides of an issue. When she's considering where she wants to go to school, help her think of questions she needs to ask herself, such as whether she wants to go to school locally or out of town. Does she want to get a 4-year degree, or a 2-year degree or certificate for a specific type of job? What kind of roommate would she be compatible with? Because you know her best, you can help her make decisions that are right for her.
Do the grown-up stuff. There are some things that only you as an adult can do. One example might be promptly filing your income taxes in January of your child's senior year. That way you can work together to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as soon as possible. Another would be chaperoning him to out-of-town college visits.