“College in middle school?! But it’s so far away!” There’s no reason to begin fretting about what looks good on scholarship applications or ACT prep, but there are some basic things you can be doing now to prepare your child for college planning season: junior and senior year of high school.parent-and-student

Seek out resources to help you – and your child.

Parent Toolkit from NBC News Education Nation is my favorite up-to-date resource on identifying tangible things that you can be doing to help your child grow academically, physically, and socially/emotionally. Choose your child’s grade and start reading! I especially love the “conversation starters” area of the middle school social and emotional development tips, and the academic tips are about more than just completing homework.

A great contact at your child’s school is the counselor. School Counselors are trained to provide support in academics, social/emotional needs, and career and college planning. They are a great resource to help you problem solve a situation with your teen who has clearly gone “off the deep end” or ensure you child is on the right course for classes needed. Ask them for strategies or school-based support to help with a problem – but don’t put all the responsibility on the school. As a parent, you have the greatest influence over your child’s success.

Talk about how your child will pay for college – with him or her.

So often, children and parents have different expectations about who will foot the cost of college – with many kids thinking mom & dad can just write a big check. First, learn about types of financial aid. Then, have a sit-down conversation to clarify how much you plan to pay (a percentage or a dollar amount) for your child’s education with your savings and parent loans (this chart shows current student loan options). Then…

Start saving – you and your child.

Open a simple savings account for your child. I’ve known families who have rules that whenever a child receives gift money (like from a birthday), half goes into the savings account for child and the other half can be used how they please.

Also, middle school isn’t too late to explore a 529 College Savings Plan. Check out the benefits and how a plan works, or go directly to Nebraska’s 529 Plan, called NEST to sign up!

Teach life skills.

Like budgeting. Take your child to open a checking account for them at a local bank. Get them a debit card. Talk about how money will get into that account (via a part-time job) and the penalties for overdrafts. Show them how to do laundry and make a simple meal. Work through conflict resolution. Prepare your child for life outside of mom or dad’s shadow.

Use EducationQuest as a college planning resource! KnowHow2GO to College is a program that provides 4 simple steps students can follow in 8th-10th grade. It includes the kind of high school classes students should take, study tips, career and college exploration, and ways to fund college. A great place to start is the “Tips for Parents & Mentors” sidebar on each KnowHow2GO webpage, plus the KnowHow2GO Checklist.

To receive college planning steps, sign up for EducationQuest’s Countdown2College.

What tips do you have to share with others about preparing a middle school child for college?