Why We Already Discuss the Cost of College With Our Four Small Kids

Students

If there is one thing I worry most about as a parent aside from the safety of my kids, it’s college. I remember the cost of attending university myself, and it’s been well over a decade since I began my college career. It was expensive when my husband and I were paying for our own educations, and it’s even more expensive now. I cringe every single time I read an article or see a news story – kidding; we watch Bubble Guppies and we read our news – that outlines the overwhelming cost of higher education, the increasing cost of high education each year and the fact that something like everyone that graduates anymore owes something like a trillion dollars to Uncle Sam thanks to student loans.

It hurts me a little on the inside to see these things. I don’t have one or two kids to worry about eventually attending and paying for college. My husband and I have four kids; including twins, so we will have two in college at one time for four years. Our first will attend college for three years by herself. Then she will be joined by our second daughter. For a year, we will have two kids in college. Our second daughter will get two years to herself after big sister graduates but when she is a college senior, she will be joined by the twins. For a solid year, we will have three kinds in college (I cannot actually wrap my head around the idea that one or more of the might consider grad school and put us dealing with four kids in college at the same time).

We don’t want to go into debt paying for their education, and we certainly do not want them going into debt to pay for their own education. We’ve considered telling them that two get to go to college and two better marry wealthy, but it seems a little old-fashioned, gross and just not all that appealing to be quite honest. Because we value education in our home and would like for all of our kids to go to college, we’ve already begun speaking to them about paying for college.

There’s a small chance our conversations about working through school and getting scholarships might be a little advanced for the twins since they did just turn two and all; and our 5-year-old is currently of the mindset that she’s going to be a princess when she grows up and doesn’t need to go to college (we’ve tried explaining to her that college is where Kate Middleton and Prince William met and fell in love, but she’s more Cinderella princess. We’re working on getting her to do the floors and speak to forest animals). Our oldest will be 8 in two months, though, and she seems to get it. Serious, studious and a very enthusiastic student, she already knows all about scholarships, college and the fact that she wants to become a doctor (great…90 years of med school).

Sometimes we get a little flack for being so persistent on discussing college with a 7-year-old, but we think it’s good for her. She needs to know now that to achieve her dreams, she has to be able to reach them. She needs to know that to reach them, she has to have a plan. Her plan has to have an end goal, and it has to have small, achievable steps along the way that keep her motivated and allow her to meet her goals. Here’s what I think all parents should talk about with their kids regarding paying for college.

Some kids can’t afford college

The most important thing we discuss with our kids is that some kids cannot afford to go to college. We want them to know that if you want an education, you have to be able to afford it. If you cannot afford it, you cannot go. They know that while they might want to go out and get a job and buy designer clothes or travel or buy a new car, they still have classes and books to pay for. We have savings for them, but we also think that college is a great time for them to learn to support themselves.

Debt affects everything

We’ve already discussed student loans with our kids. They might not understand it right now, but we harp on the fact that if they take out loans to go to school, they have to pay them back. Paying them back might mean they cannot afford to buy a home, a car, have kids, get married, travel or do all the things that they work so hard to afford by getting an education and a good job. If they can afford to pay back their loans, they might not be able to afford these things. If they cannot afford to pay back their loans, they won’t be able to afford those things at all.

Scholarships

Our kids know that there are ways for them to find money for college, and we are always on the lookout for them for our kids. It’s early, we know; but it never hurts to educate yourself. They are well aware that good grades, participating in activities and being community-minded is a great way to ensure that scholarships are available to them. We also make sure that they know that there is no such thing as a ‘small’ scholarship not worth their time.

I distinctly remember applying for scholarships when I was in high school and skipping over anything less than $5,000 because it didn’t seem like enough. I regret that, because every $1,000 or every $500 or even $100 I was given was money I could use to buy a book, pay for a class and never have to pay back.

Photo by Getty Images

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