When you hear the term “plan for college,” what comes to mind?  Are you thinking that you’ll start worrying about that when your kids enter high school?  Perhaps you’ll wait until the summer prior to their senior year?  Well, considering the cost of post-secondary education, it’s never too early to start planning for college!  I asked a colleague, Stacy Seim, to share how she and her husband are helping to prepare their 7th and 3rd-grade daughters for life after high school.

What challenges do you face in getting your daughters focused on their future?

I think kids have a hard time understanding time in relation to college and future careers.  For example, my oldest daughter would like to be an architect so we talked about how there is only one architecture program in Nebraska and that it takes five years of schooling after high school.  With my younger daughter, we talked about what college means and how long she would have to go to be a teacher or veterinarian (we recently got a puppy).

The other challenge is helping them realize that the study habits they develop now will serve them throughout high school and college, in terms of completing assignments, organization, time management, etc.  This is particularly relevant for my 7th grader as she becomes involved in more activities.

Do your daughters understand the cost of college? 

My older daughter understands, which is a side effect of dealing with it every day (via her mother!), but my younger daughter hasn’t a clue.

Do they understand the importance of post-secondary education or training?  If so, how did you explain that to them?

I think they understand the importance because we’ve talked about how much additional schooling certain careers take after high school.  We’ve also talked about our college degrees and how that has impacted our work choices, professional options, and lifestyle.

What other advice would you give parents of younger children to help them prepare their kids for high school and beyond?

I told my older daughter that I spoke to an 8th grade class about college planning, and she wondered why since they were so young.  I explained the need for taking the right classes to get admitted into college, and needing so many years of English, math, science, etc. How else would young students know about college requirements?

Talking about the importance of education is critical when discussing earning potential, career opportunities, and lifestyle choices.  I like to use visits to the doctor, bank, and hiring a handyman as examples of teachable moments to help my kids understand what education is needed for careers in medicine, banking, and construction.

Recently, we saw a car accident and talked about how insurance might help replace or repair the damaged car. I explained that their father is an insurance adjuster, so he helps people figure out what can be done after an accident or damaging storm. It’s helpful to use real-life examples to demonstrate possible career options and discuss the required education, earning potential, job responsibilities, and what subjects in school would help them in that particular career.

How do you plan to fund your daughters’ education?

We often talk about excelling in school and getting involved in extracurricular activities to increase their chances of earning scholarships. Scholarship providers like to see a student who is well rounded and is willing to be a leader!  Also, we opened a College Savings Plan when our kids were little.  Every little bit helps, and we got used to stashing money into those accounts so we don’t really miss it on a weekly basis.  It’ll certainly help them out in the long run!