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College Education Planning: More than Just Managing the Money

Part one of two on how to help clients with the emotional and psychological transition.

I have three sons and raising them has involved a succession of transitional times. I know the time of infancy, when it seemed that days lasted forever because they blended right into the nights. It was a time-intensive, sleep-deprived adventure much easier to treasure in hindsight than in the immediate instance. 

I also know the adjustments of our rhythm of life as the boys grew through toddlerhood, elementary school, junior high and high school. Each age had more than its share of trials and, fortunately, at least an equal measure of joys. Our home was noisy, lively, and never, ever boring! 

Sometimes with more grace and equanimity than other times, we arranged our lives around the needs and activities of our young brood, as we went from holding babes in our arms to holding hands while crossing streets to reaching up to hug young men who towered over us. Through it all, our hearts sometimes struggled to balance our hopes and dreams for the boys with our fears and insecurities. We felt deeply responsible for these most precious treasures, and more than anything else we wanted to do right by them. These emotions were never stronger than when we prepared to send a now-almost-adult child to college.  

As financial advisors, you are accustomed to concentrating on the logistical and financial requirements of this process with your clients. Equally important and potentially more wrenching for your clients, though, is the emotional and psychological side of this transition. In this two-part article, I will offer several ideas on what you can do to address both aspects in ways that build client satisfaction and loyalty through the generations. 

Engaging Parents and Children

From the start, recognize that one universal aspect of this transition is the changing relationship, from parent-child to parent-young adult. In helping to facilitate this, your purposes are to: 

  • Promote open discussion and honesty on all sides. 
  • Let the parents know you are a partner with them as it becomes tangibly apparent that their child is growing up.   
  • Allow the teen to feel professional, respected as a maturing individual and involved in a process that will have profound implications.   
  • Genuinely assist the family while increasing the likelihood that you will retain that child as a client through college and beyond. 

Begin accomplishing these purposes by helping parents detail early on how much of the child’s college education they wish to fund. Some parents choose not to fund the entire cost of the education, requiring the child to contribute through personal savings, a job or scholarship awards. The parents’ income and savings level is not the only consideration in this decision. Spending some of their own money increases the chances teens will be invested in the education, and there is a strong correlation between paying at least a portion of the education expenses and success in the first post-college job. Also note that teens may take their high school studies more seriously if scholarship money counts toward their portion of the expenditure rather than toward the parent’s share. 

Still, some parents do decide to fund the entire education, believing it will free the child to study, explore and be involved without having to worry about money. You will find proponents on both ends and along the entire breadth of the spectrum. The most important thing is not the decision itself; it is that teens understand the contribution they are expected to make so they are not surprised later and can begin forming their own plans.

In the next installment, I explore how to bring your clients’ children into the process during their high school years.

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life. 

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