“$500 a month.”
I stare back at my wife in disbelief. “$500 a month?” I ask. “So, we need to be putting away $1,500 a month for the next 18 years?”
This was a conversation I had with my wife after she Googled how much we should be saving for our kids’ college. Go ahead, try Googling it yourself. Are you starting to sweat yet?
But before totally freaking you out, let me just go ahead and share the good news with you: there are a lot of things you can be doing right now – things that don’t involve magically making $25,000 more a year – that will help set your child on a path to one day attending college.
Here’s what you can do now.
Save $105 a month (or more if you can)
Here’s the thing about that $500 per month number: it assumes you will pay 100% of your child’s annual tuition and room and board for a school that, in today’s numbers, costs around $27,000, according to SavingforCollege.com.
However, the average annual cost of a public four-year in-state university (tuition and room and board) is $20,090 (for the 2016-2017 year) according to College Board. Already, that $500 number is closer to $375 per month.
And, considering that the average undergraduate student receives $14,460 in financial aid (for the 2014-2015 year), we can further assume that your child will receive financial aid that, on average, will reduce his or her annual cost to $5,630. That translates to needing to save about $105 per child per month for 18 years.
As a starting point, $105 seems much more attainable than $500 per month.
Be cognizant of their friend group
There is one overriding reason that I went to college: all of my friends were doing it.
I went to college for the same reason that I’ll look up in the sky if I see a few other people looking up in the sky: we are conformists. We do what everyone else around us does and this “social norm” pressure is exceedingly strong. If you want to see a fascinating study on this, check this out (which describes why you will be more likely to reuse your towel in a hotel).
Teach self-control over academics
A 2011 study lead by Avshalom Caspi of Duke University found that self-control is a better predictor of future success than I.Q. (which is arguably linked to academic performance).
I’ve previously written about this on Parent.co here.
Teach them how to work hard
My mom was like a drill sergeant growing up when it came to chores.
I spent half of my childhood vacuuming, pulling weeds, and generally cleaning the mess that my three siblings and I made. But learning how to work hard was one of the best skills I took away from childhood.
Despite the fact that I was a B student in school (at best) and had remarkably unimpressive ACT/SAT scores, working hard at my education and in my career enabled me to become a CPA and land a great job.
In my own estimation, hard work and persistence are much more important than IQ and academic performance.
Expect the best for them
The very best teachers all have one thing in common, they believe and expect the best of you. These teachers don’t push you out of some selfish inner ambition, they push you from a place of love and wanting the best for you.
And when teachers believe the best, children respond in remarkable ways, like improving their own IQ, as evidenced by research.
We can do the same thing for our own children. We can believe in them and can push them – out of a place of love and wanting the best for them – to further their education.
Praise them for their hard work, not success
Carol Dweck’s research on the “growth mindset” is mind-blowingly awesome. As a parent, you need to know about it.
In short, when we praise our children for succeeding, they become afraid to fail and they stop seeking challenging things for fear they will fail. They internalize their failure as something wrong with them.
However, when we praise them for working hard at something, they don’t fear failure. They know we love and praise them when they simply try hard at something. Read more about this on Parent.co here.
When the time comes, do the little things
Help them study for the SAT/ACT, help them apply for different colleges, and do all those other little things once that time comes. Plan ahead.
Going to college isn’t the end goal for our children and not every one of our kids will go to college. That’s perfectly okay. We just want the best for them in life, whatever that looks like.
However, as a parent, doing the above things can set them up for the potential of one day attending college.