How to Plan a Budget with Your College-Bound Teen

How to Plan a Budget with Your College-Bound Teen

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Plan a budget for college!

We have had two sons in college, and the second time around was much easier because we knew what to expect!  The biggest concern for us, and many others are all of the expenses.  Here are some things that we learned the first (and second) time around, as we planned a budget for college.

Make sure that you and your senior are on the same page about all expenses.

There are the expenses that you know about.  There will always also be some things that come up unexpectedly; those can be dealt with as they occur.

*This post may contain affiliate links.  This means, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase.

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Living Expenses

Living expenses are a big deal.

Where will your student live?  There will be choices for housing from the actual dorms to the types of rooms.  Will they have a roommate?  Will you pay for the items that they decorate their room with or will they be expected to pay for some?  Is there a set amount you are willing to spend for this?  Another type of living expense is the meal plan.

Budget for college

Look at all of the choices and let your student know which of these is the one you are willing to pay for.  There are usually tiered levels of dorms and meal plans which include different levels of amenities etc. These types of expenses can be crazy expensive even when you set limits.

My suggestion is to start with one of the least expensive, and see how that goes. If you teen needs more, you can add. But, remember that they will eat off of campus some, and probably snack in their rooms as well.

Know that the Cost of Attendance is so much more than the information below. Here is my YouTube video discussing what actual COA is for attending college, and the things to consider. Read on below for more details.

Tuition and Books

Tuition and books are the other biggie.

Tuition costs are set per hour. So, the cost is determined by the number of classes your teen takes. One option to look into is getting some of the gen. ed. classes taken care of at a local community college-these will cost so much less! Online is another option. Work with the school counselor to look into different possibilities.

Your student will need books. These can be rented or shared to save on the cost. Another way to save is to check out the library- many schools have their textbooks available there for students to use.

There are many websites that rent, including Amazon, which has worked well for both renting and purchasing for my oldest son. We sit down before each semester with both our computers open. He logs into his school bookstore, and I log into Amazon. In most cases the cheapest option is to RENT from Amazon! There are a few exceptions, but know that the return policy for Amazon is super easy and user-friendly.

Weekly dose of parenting encouragement

Here are some books that helped us so much! (I am adding their newest version)

The Ultimate Scholarship Book

College Bound

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Admission Matters


Shop Amazon – Rent Textbooks – Save up to 80%

Day to day expenses for your student should be a topic for discussion.

These expenses are for things like a meal off of campus, personal grooming items or school supplies that run out, and new clothing or shoes. What will you be willing to spend on these types of items? What will you expect your student to spend of their own money, if any? Be as detailed as possible to plan the best budget for college for your teen.

Help your teen plan a budget for college!

Senior year in high school is the best time to start! Don’t wait until next year!

What do you spend now on your kid for day-to-day expenses? Does your child have a job? Should they get one?  Are you planning on them working in college for their extra expenses? Either way, you need to figure out what the budget will be.

There are many ways of working this out with your kids. For our boys, we pay for school, housing with a meal plan, and books. Anything, else is on them such as meals off of campus, fraternity, and clothes. This means that they have worked since they were 15 during summers, and part time during school each year for their spending money.

Our oldest son was able to get a great scholarship package for his grades, ACT, BSA Eagle and Boy’s State. We aren’t really spending much on him at all. Our second son will have a different situation, but we have already talked with him at length about this, and he knows what the budgeted amount will be. He also has his BSA Eagle, but not the other accolades. He will utilize the A+ program in community college.

A+ Program

Our state (Missouri) has a great program called the A+ Program. If a student shows good citizenship, has the required attendance, the required GPA, and with teacher supervision tutors a peer for at least 50 hours, then they graduate with A+ requirements on their record. (There are a few other items on the list, but these are the main ones.)

This is a great help for getting community college, and hopefully an Associate’s Degree, basically for free-except for books! The specifics are in the link above. You should check with your school to see about any type of program such as this for a student who does not excel in school or on standardized tests.

Discuss ALL of these expenses to plan a budget for college.

Look at the college website. Open all tabs on the website pertaining to costs and scholarships. (Look for all of the fees!  There are things like parking fees, technology fees, health insurance fees…) Be open about what you as parents are thinking is a reasonable budget. Listen to and encourage questions from your child. One thing that we have learned is that they don’t know what they don’t know. Spell everything out as clearly as possible.

Don’t wait until they are headed to college. Neither side should have to assume anything! You know what your budget is, so tell your child up front. Your child may have some expectations as well. This is the time to lay it all out on the table. I wrote another blog post on paying for college. Check it out here.

Some sample expenses for freshman year could be: car payment and insurance, gas, cell phone, fun money for going out, groceries (for dorm room, also toiletries as they run out), clothing, student loan payments, credit card…  What is your child responsible for now? Will it be the same when they are gone at college? If you would like it to be different than what it is now, then now is the time to change things!

Even the cat says, "Budget for college!"

Need a planner?

Check out my budget planner for you and your soon-to-be college student to fill out together.

Planning a budget for college is so important!

All things considered, start these discussions SOONER THAN LATER. This can be a fun time to figure things out together, and to make decisions as a team.

Another resource I have is the link to the companion blog post for my book with printables that I forgot to include in the book. This is a great resource for talking with your teens.

Good luck to you all! Let me know how this goes for you!

I would love to stay in touch!

Make sure you subscribe to my Parenting High Schoolers newsletter below for more articles about surviving and thriving with teenagers. Simply enter your information below and you will be all set! You can also like my Facebook page, and follow me on Pinterest and YouTube! I look forward to seeing you again!

Check out these blog posts: College Bound: Conversations to Help Your Teen Through High School, Freshman Dorm Necessities, High School Parent Toolkit, and The Truth about College and Student Loan Debt

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Time to Apply for Colleges-Quick How-to’s

Time to Apply for Colleges-Quick How-to’s

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How Do I Apply to College?

“How do I apply to college?”, your teen asks. This post covers how to make this process easier for your teen, starting the summer before their senior year. There are many things to keep track of, so get organized! Check out this post which will help your and your teen stay organized throughout high school. If you haven’t been doing all of these things, it’s not too late to start!

Schools are sending information to prospective students via email and snail mail.  It is such fun for your teen to receive all of these!  Now, it’s time to begin the process of applying to colleges. *This post may contain affiliate links.  This means, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase.

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Throw away any unwanted information!

Have your teen throw away any packets from schools that they are not interested in.  This will eliminate over half of what they receive.  Your student needs to use both the trash can and their email trash.  Tell them to stay on top of this because the stack will grow, and their inbox will get to be overwhelming!

This is one job that you can help with.  I would go into my sons’ email inboxes (with their permission) and delete any that my they knew were too far away or too expensive or too whatever…

"How do you apply for college?, your teens asks. Delete all applications that they are not interested in, both online and the snail mail versions.

FYI-I have written a book with all of this information in it plus lots more!  Check it out!  College Bound: The Ultimate List of Conversations to Help Your Teen Through High School 

And, here is a blog post that goes in conjunction with the book and the information in this post. Many of these discussions that I write about in my book address the very things that your teen will need to know when thinking about “How do I apply to college?”

When Do I Apply for College?

The actual process of college application is in the fall. That is when application due dates typically begin. Each college will be different. Most will accept your teen all the way until school starts the next fall based on the number of applicants.  Just beware that financial aid is rewarded first come, first serve. The later that your child applies, the less chance of monies. They will also run the risk of the freshman class filling up, and being waitlisted.

Prioritize By Due Dates 

Some college application due dates will be immediate, others not for awhile.  There may be an early decision date which is binding, others have early decision which is non-binding.  Others will have rolling decision dates, which means that your child may have more time.  

Have your child look on each college’s website. What is the tuition package?  What sorts of scholarships are available?  Is there a tiered fee structure?  Where does your student fall in all of that?  

This might help to eliminate more schools.  Talk about a college budget, and learn the truths about student loan debt.

One more thing to look at as far as applications go, is whether or not the college charges an application fee. These can add up, so be sure that if you spend that money, it is really a place that they can see themselves going to for the next 4 years.

Fill out the FAFSA 

The FAFSA due date is October 1.  Do not wait until the first to fill it out!  It can take hours to get it filled in, double-checked and completed!  Read about what the FAFSA and what it actually is here. (If you are able to link through the IRS, the time will be greatly shortened.)

Have your child register for the ACT and/or SAT again, if those scores are something which they are wanting to improve upon.  They can still apply for colleges, and can just update the score for the college either yourselves or via the test center.  They can even take these tests after being accepted, just be sure that they update the college with any improvement to their score! (It might make a difference to the financial aid package that they might receive.)

Ways that ACT and SAT are scored

Some schools ask for the ACT composite score.  This is the score of each subtest which is then divided by the number of subtests.  The composite score and each test score (English, mathematics, reading, science) ranges from 1 (low) to 36 (high), and is the average of the four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number. Fractions less than one-half are rounded down; fractions one-half or more are rounded up. 

Another ACT score that a school may ask for is the superscore.  This is made up of the best sub-scores regardless of test date. Be sure to send in all test scores for consideration.  This creates a new superscore using only the highest numbers. Not all schools will ask for either of these, but look out for these options.

"How do I apply for college?", your teen asks. Your teen will have more options with higher test scores.

Visit campus if possible!

One of the best ways to know if a school might be a good fit is to visit the campus.  The best time to go is during the school year so that your teen can get a true feeling of what life is like during a school day.  Go anytime during their early high school years if possible. (During these days of COVID-there are online versions of college visits–just check out the college’s website.)

A lot of people wait until junior year, which is fine, but by then most teens are super busy. If you can take them for a visit during their freshman or sophomore year, it gives them time to think about things. Your teen can start to make decisions and eliminate some of their choices earlier.

Visit a variety of colleges if possible!

Visit small and large schools. Visit state schools and private. Visit one that is a little further away than is comfortable to them. Visit the school that is in their hometown because it’s different to actually experience it, than to just think they know about it.

Try to visit one college from each of these categories to give your child a good variety to choose from. They won’t know until they try what might be a good fit! Plus, it’s fun to see all their different choices.

Write Essays  

Essays can be tweaked for each situation as needed. One essay that your teen needs to write is, “What are your plans for the future?”  Most schools want to know this information in some form or another.  It is a good way for your child to actually think about this, and get their thoughts in order.  

Tell them when filling out applications and writing essays that they need to be honest and thoughtful. There will be questions that will cause them to really think, and there will be others that seem ridiculous. Most questions are asked for a certain reason, so your child should think and answer carefully.  

How do I apply to college? More and more the applications will be online!

Get Letters of Recommendation

This is a step that should not be ignored.  Go to teachers that have been supportive.  Tell your child to really foster good relationships with their teachers throughout high school, so that when they ask a teacher for a recommendation, it’s not a big surprise! This is a big one for answering that question, “How do I apply to college?”

Search the College Website  

Go back to each college’s website.  Look carefully through each tab.  Search through student life, take a virtual tour of the campus, look at the available clubs and activities.  

Google the nearby town to find out information about the size and what is available to do outside of school since it is where they would be living.  Again, visit colleges if it is at all possible!  Some tips for visiting colleges are here.

Your child should do everything that that they can to inform themselves about each college as a possibility.  This way, when it comes time to really decide where they will end up, they can make an informed decision with all the pertinent facts. This way, when they ask, “How do I apply for college?”, they now know some facts to start this process.

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