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Resources > College Support > College Planning Guide for Parents—Everything You Need To Know

College Planning Guide for Parents—Everything You Need To Know

Although most parents look forward to seeing their children go to college, when the time eventually comes, it can be both exciting and stressful for students and parents. From college applications to paying for tuition and other college expenses, you need adequate preparation to navigate the process with ease. 

As your child transitions to young adulthood, it also marks the beginning of independence and responsibility in their lives, and they need your help and support to adjust to this phase. This comprehensive college planning guide for parents will walk you through every step of the college planning process, from choosing a school to applying for financial aid.

What Parents Preparing Their Children for College Should Know

Preparing your child for college also involves preparing yourself to let them go. This may be the first time your child is stepping out on their own, and it can be scary for both of you. Here are some key tips to help you ease the transition:

  • Student financial aid can be a big boost
  • College application is time-bound, so apply early
  • Making a financial plan for college is crucial
  • Your child will need your support

Parents’ Guide to College Planning

College preparation is a long process that should start as early as junior school to lay a foundation for a smooth transition. Here’s a guide to help you navigate the college preparation process:

  1. Encourage good grades to build their college resume
  2. Support your child with college applications
  3. Organize campus visits
  4. Encourage independence
  5. Prepare for their absence
  6. Start saving early
  7. Research available scholarships
  8. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  9. Discuss finances with your child

Encourage Good Grades To Build Their College Resume

College prep for parents also requires the student to play their part, starting as early as the first year of high school. To help your child build their college resume, encourage them to score good grades and participate in activities and courses that align with their interests and potential majors.

Help your child develop effective study habits and time management skills they’ll need to excel in academic tasks and get accepted into their preferred college. Some schools offer merit scholarships to students with high grades, which is another reason to encourage academic excellence. Support their preparation for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT by providing resources and practice materials and emphasizing the importance of these tests.

Support Your Child With College Application

While the applications are usually due during senior year, you can begin researching colleges during your child’s junior year so it’s less stressful for them when the time to apply comes. This will give you and your child more time to sort through various options based on their interests.

Going to college is a big milestone in their life, so it’s important to take the time to make the right choice. Allow them the independence to make the decision and only offer guidance when needed. For example, you can encourage them to reach out to the college admissions team and get all the information they need to make a list of preferred colleges. Once they complete the applications, make sure they proofread and review them before submission to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Organize Campus Visits

Starting as early as junior year, take your child to visit the colleges they’re interested in applying to, especially when students are on campus. This will give them a better feel of the college atmosphere, energy, and day-to-day activities. 

You can schedule appointments with admissions and financial aid offices to gather more information about how the institution will help your child achieve their goals. Take the time to explore the surrounding area outside campus as well because this will be their neighborhood for the next few years. If you’re unable to visit the college in person, take a virtual tour to get a glimpse of the campus.

Encourage Independence

Transitioning to college means your child will no longer depend on your help in most daily tasks. This new chapter will require them to be self-aware and proactive. Empower them to solve problems independently and advocate for themselves.

Encourage them to organize their responsibilities by setting goals, managing time, and creating routines to help them stay focused and achieve their academic goals on their own. Other crucial skills they’ll need include:

  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability

Encourage them to participate in activities that will build their independence and help them adjust to living alone, like embracing leadership roles, planning and cooking meals, traveling alone, participating in competitive sporting activities, or starting personal projects.

Prepare for Their Absence

The reality of your child leaving the nest can be an emotional rollercoaster for you both. Before your child moves for college, encourage open communication about these anxieties and concerns to alleviate stress and find solutions together.

Create a communication plan together and rely on social media and video chat to stay connected. During this time, you should prioritize self-care and focus on activities that bring you relaxation and joy. This will ensure you’re in the right place to support your child through their own challenges.

Start Saving Early

The cost of college keeps rising—in fact, a college education is the second largest expense a person will likely ever have, right after buying a house. If you have several children in college, the financial burden will be even greater, which is why you should start saving early.

Saving lessens the burden of paying for college and allows you options you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. For example, saving will help you rely less on debt, earn interest rather than pay interest, and help your child leave college debt-free. No matter how little you save, it can make a difference in the long run if you do it regularly. Luckily, there are state-sponsored saving plans like 529 plans that invest your contributions to grow your savings over time. There are two types of 529 plans you can consider when starting a college fund:

529 PlanWhat It Entails
Education savings planThis is the commonly used plan where the money you contribute is invested in an investment option of their choice. The growth of the account is determined by the performance of the investment
Prepaid tuition planThese plans are offered by a few states and higher education institutions. They allow you to lock in tuition at current rates for your child who will attend college in years to come. Prepaid plans aren’t available for K-12 and don’t cover the costs of room and board

Savings plans offer you several benefits:

  • High contribution limit
  • Tax-free withdrawals
  • Flexible plan location
  • Ease of setup and maintenance
  • Tax-deductible contributions
  • Tax-deferred growth

Research Available Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to reduce the cost of college education, but finding and choosing the ones to apply for requires time and effort. Each scholarship comes with a unique set of criteria, from academic merit and community service to financial need and even personal background. Encourage your child to apply before college application deadlines become their top priority—the summer after junior year is the prime time to do this.

Here are some sites you can visit to apply for scholarships:

You can also look for other options not on this list, but be careful not to fall for scams. If any website asks for a fee to process a scholarship, it’s probably a scam, so steer clear.

Fill Out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Since savings aren’t enough to cover all college expenses in most cases, more than half of families in the U.S. borrow money to pay for college. To lessen the financial burden for students and their parents, the federal and state governments offer financial aid through loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

To access any type of federal aid, you need to fill out the FAFSA, a form that determines your child’s eligibility for grants, loans, and work-study programs. Assist your child in completing the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 of their senior year to maximize the amount of financial aid they may stand to gain. Ensure you have all the required documents, including:

  • Your Social Security number (SSN)
  • Tax returns
  • Records of child support received if you’re divorced
  • Current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
  • Net worth of investments, businesses, and farm assets

After submitting your FAFSA, here’s what to expect:

  • Student Aid Report (SAR)—Within a few days, you’ll receive your SAR via email. This report shows the information you submitted on your FAFSA and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an estimated amount colleges use to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. It doesn’t necessarily reflect what your family must contribute, but it’s a starting point for financial aid packages
  • College evaluation—Colleges use your EFC alongside other factors like academic merit and financial need to determine your aid package. This may include grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities
  • SAR review— If you find any errors on your SAR, such as incorrect income figures or missing information, you might be able to fix them online. After corrections are made, you’ll receive a revised SAR with updated information. Share your corrected SAR with the colleges you’re applying to, and they’ll use it to craft your personalized financial aid offer

Discuss Finances With Your Child

Among the life lessons you teach your college-aged child, financial discussions are crucial considering it might be their first time living alone and handling their expenses. If possible, start these conversations when they’re in junior school or even earlier. Your child should know what your financial capabilities are, how much you’re committing to their education, and how financially responsible they need to be. 

If they’re taking student loans, your child needs to understand their responsibility of paying it back and learn how to handle finances by budgeting and living within their means. You can also encourage them to take up part-time jobs or internships while in college. This is a good way to teach them hard work, time management, and financial independence. Explore available resources about financial literacy together and explain how they can help them make informed financial decisions.

Teach them useful credit building practices, such as:

You can also help them build a credit history by adding them as a joint credit cardholder or authorized user, although these options might not work in the long run. To help your child build a strong credit profile from a young age, choosing a credit building product like FreeKick is a much better option. With FreeKick, you can establish a credit history for your child from as early as the age of 13. 

FreeKick—Parent-Sponsored Credit Building and Identity Protection

FreeKick by Austin Capital Bank is an FDIC-insured deposit account combined with additional services, providing:

  1. Credit building for teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 25
  2. Identity protection for families

Parent-Sponsored Credit Building

The Card Act of 2009 prohibits banks from issuing credit cards to anyone under the age of 21 unless they have proof of income, which makes it difficult for students to access credit. However, thanks to Freekick’s parent-sponsored credit building, you can give your child a head start in life by building their credit history early on.

A strong credit score will help them secure better job opportunities in the future, give them better car and home insurance rates, and improve their chances of renting a home, ultimately saving them over $200,000 throughout adulthood.

 Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Create an Account—Go to FreeKick.bank and choose a plan that suits your family’s budget and needs
  2. Set It and Forget It—When the account is activated, FreeKick automatically starts building your child’s credit over the next 12 months
  3. Keep Growing—After the first 12-month term, you can renew the account and keep building your child’s credit or close it and get a full refund of your initial deposit

Identity Protection

Identity theft is a growing crime, and children are more vulnerable than ever, including college students. Research shows that a child’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds, making it critical to detect and stop identity fraud early.

To reduce the risk of identity theft and help secure your family’s personal information, FreeKick offers comprehensive identity protection and cybersecurity features for adults and minors:

Services for Adult Children and ParentsServices for Minor Children
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Lost wallet protection
Court records monitoring
Change of address monitoring
Non-credit (Payday) loan monitoring
Free FICO® Score monthly
FICO® Score factors
Experian credit report monthly
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for children’s personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Sex offender monitoring—based on sponsor parent’s address

FreeKick Pricing

FreeKick makes credit monitoring and identity protection accessible by offering 100% price-transparent plans that fit any family’s needs and budget. Both accounts are FDIC-insured up to $250,000. Here’s a breakdown of its pricing options:

FDIC-Insured Deposit AmountPlan Fee
$3,000$0 (Free)
No deposit$149/year

Send your child off to college with a strong credit profile while protecting your whole family from the risk of identity theft—sign up for FreeKick today.