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Family conversations about college

As a parent, your expectations will help shape what your child expects of themselves. You can help your children envision their futures by talking to them about their interests and their role in attending the college of their choice. It’s important to remember that college isn’t for everyone, and that every family will have their own histories with and expectations around education. Let’s explore these important family conversations about college.

College conversations for middle-schooler

If college seems to be on the horizon for your middle-school-aged child, it’s important to foster an open dialog about their future. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Talk to your family about preparing for college. Start conversations early, be sure to include your children, and outline everyone’s roles and expectations.
  • Think about what you can realistically afford. That means aligning your child's preferences—and the costs involved—with their job goals, market opportunities, and likely starting salary.
  • Don’t rely on scholarships alone—have a backup plan. Talk about your family’s savings strategy, research your options, and get creative with how you’ll make the choices work financially for your family.

Regardless of the path your child takes, a parent’s example can positively affect what children expect of themselves. You can help your children start envisioning their own futures by talking to them about:

  • Their interests (both academic and extracurricular). Depending on their interests, consider alternatives to the traditional 4-year college, such as 2-year colleges, community colleges, professional and trade schools, or a military path.
  • If they are on a path to college, you can talk to them about the role you expect them to play in attending a college of their choice. Likewise, help your child understand that every year counts—colleges are attracted to well-rounded applicants who show achievement in multiple areas.

Help them get into extracurricular activities early 

The path to college starts well before high school. Playing “catch up” in just a few years can be difficult, especially when competitive colleges expect applicants to be well-rounded in athletics, academics, and extracurricular activities. Consider advising your children to participate in things like: 

  • AP or community college classes 
  • A part-time job or internship 
  • Sports 
  • After-school clubs 
  • Academic honors societies 
  • Volunteering 
  • Artistic and musical pursuits 

Talking to your high-schooler about college

High school can be an exciting time, particularly as your child begins thinking about the future and college. It's a good time to start thinking about “fit.” Consider location: Will they do best closer to home, with access to familiar comforts and amenities, or will they thrive in a new setting? Housing is another factor—there are tradeoffs for living on campus, off campus, or at home. 

Now is also the time to consider your options for paying for college, ideally creating a shared view of who will pay for what. Discuss financing options and their potential near- and long-term impact. Here are some steps to get started: 

Have a road map to determine what you can afford 

Factors that can impact costs include attending a public or private school. Your student could also consider self-financing, meaning securing a work-study or part-time job. Also consider long-term goals like pursuing a graduate degree, plans to travel, or purchasing a home or car to help determine how and where to stretch your savings. 

Make the most of financial aid opportunities 

Familiarize yourself with need-based aid, such as government subsidized loan programs, direct grants, scholarships, or tuition discounts for qualified low-income students. There’s also merit-based aid, which includes financial awards for students who excel academically, athletically, or through other talents (such as musically). 

Find information on scholarships, internships, part-time jobs, and financial aid for free with Fastweb.  

Know the real impact of student loans 

When deciding how much debt to take on, consider future salary potential and how much help—if any—you plan to offer your student to pay off those loans. To estimate potential loan payments and the salary needed to pay them off without hardship or help, try the student loan calculator at FinAid.org.

Help your teen learn about money

The Fidelity Youth® Account gives teens the power to save, spend, and invest their money.

More to explore

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

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