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The College Planning Advice You Thought You Already Knew

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The College Planning Advice You Thought You Already Knew

The other day I had dinner with some wonderful new clients. While enjoying our first bottle of great vino (B Wise Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – for the curious minds), we started getting into a conversation about colleges.  They have a few kids like me, although theirs are a couple years older.  Despite the age differences, we had a lot of similarities in this conversation.  We both have intentions of sending our children to college and would like to pay for their college tuition.

As the conversation continued, the husband (I’ll call him Cowboy John) gave me some profound advice.  I knew instantly it would be the topic of my next blog; as it has the potential to impact many others in similar situations.

The advice!

So, what was this sage advice Cowboy John mentioned?  One of his friends works in the admissions office of a very reputable university.  He asked her for a recommendation on how to give their kids a leg up on their collegiate careers.  The answer was simple, yet brilliant (like most good advice, I find).  She said, “start showing colleges to your kids early.”

To be fair, I’ll bet most people reading this are thinking: “Duh, I plan on showing my children colleges in high school.”  However, that is not the advice.

What she meant was, show them colleges before high school — as in middle school, or even grade school.  After reading that, most of you are now thinking:  “Andrew, you expect me to take my kids on college tours when they are 10 years old? That’s bonkers!”  But, think of it this way.  You are on a family vacation in Philadelphia.  Why not drive through Penn, Drexel, and Temple?  Perhaps you visit Boston. So check out BU, BC, Harvard, MIT, or the 55 other institutions in the Boston area.  Maybe, for some crazy reason, you decide to go on vacation in Delaware. Why not stop by my alma mater – the University of Delaware?

My point is you don’t have to take a 10 year old on a three hour college tour.  You can, however, go walk the campus on a nice day during your vacation.  By checking out a few of the buildings and the grounds, you all might get a sense of what it’s like to attend that university.  It could also be a very positive memory for your children, too.  It might help them have the urge to attend such a fantastic place.

The benefits!

There’s a myriad of incredible advantages to visiting colleges early with your little ones.  I’ll detail a few of them below:

  1. One of the biggest impacts is setting an expectation that some form of higher learning is expected. It is no secret there is a higher probability of success and earning potential for a college graduate.  Thus, setting that precedent when they are most impressionable can greatly impact their adult lives.
  2. Your children start to get a sense of what they want in a school – small campus, large campus, warm weather, cold weather, etc. They’ll learn if they want a liberal arts college or a big SEC football school.  Instead of cramming visits to a half a dozen schools when they are in high school, your children could have the luxury of seeing dozens of schools during their youth.  This allows them to make a substantially more informed decision.  (Yours truly saw one school and applied early decision.  Thank goodness I got accepted!)
  3. Your children have the ability to meet key people at these schools. Admissions departments love seeing youngsters showing interest.  Most of these schools will bend over backwards to accommodate someone sincerely interested at an early age.  What’s bad about having the email and phone number of an influential individual at what may be the school of your kid’s dreams?  I recommend making them a pen pal through the years; keep in touch periodically with milestone events.
  4. What will it take to get into their ideal school? What grades, expectations, and extracurricular activities will the school look for in an ideal candidate?  How can anyone have a clue about their dream college’s requirements if you don’t know about the school until a year or two out?  By that time, it is generally too late.  But, by visiting early, you can start planning for these requirements.  As an added bonus, it can help instill a work ethic, drive, and direction for a lot of children.  Sometimes it’s hard to motivate our kids.  If they get really excited about their potential future, perhaps they’ll motivate themselves.  There is no greater motivator than self-motivation.
  5. Seeing these schools early can also help pinpoint the schools specialties. You can track the school’s progress in these areas of interest.  If you have five or ten years to follow a few schools maturation in XYZ subject matter, your children can really get a sense if it’s going to be the right fit for them.  Additionally, you can get a better understanding of the success rates of their graduates.
  6. Learn what you don’t know. One of my favorite sayings is: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” By visiting the colleges, you and your children learn the things most people don’t.  For instance, maybe one of the schools is expanding a division within the college or getting noticed for their advancements in a certain field.  Since brand new they may not be getting a lot of students applying to this new division, if it appeals to your child it may make for an easy foot in the door.  This insight can be invaluable in the decision making and application process.
  7. You and your children can start to learn about scholarships and grant money available. For example, perhaps this school is big in tennis and has a lot of extra funding for tennis scholarships (assuming it’s the sport in which your child excels).  Maybe your child will even meet the coach and get on their recruitment radar in advance.
  8. This process also sheds light on you as a parent. As parents, we usually know our little ones better than they know themselves.  With that in mind, you can start to help show them options you think they’d like.   You can get a sense of comfort on which institutions your child may be spending their college years.
  9. The final benefit I’ll mention is the fun, engaging, educational, and family adventure. It will give you something to look forward to and is a great way to bond with your children in an entirely different way. Most likely, it’ll shape their futures for the better. A family that makes academia a core value is one I surely admire.

Related: Six Hacks to Automate Your Financial Life

Final thoughts:

I owe this blog to Cowboy John and his friend.  I know its great advice (because the wine has worn off and I still think this is really valuable stuff).  In fact, I plan to start doing this immediately upon our next family trip. It’ll be a great bonding experience and a fun way to make learning cool.

I hope you enjoyed this suggestion for the young ones in your life.  (Heck, it may even make getting their birthday presents easier from here on out.  Who doesn’t love a comfy sweatshirt with their favorite school mascot on the front?)

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