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How to Bring Teenage Children Into the College Planning Process

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

Last month, I discussed the benefits of bringing your clients’ children into the entire planning process for their college education. Let’s look at how this could unfold. It only takes a few hours of your time, but those hours are well worth the investment. 

During freshman year in high school, arrange for the parents to bring the young person into the office briefly to meet you. State that you are working with the parents to educate and equip the teen for whatever the future may hold. Ask about the youth's hopes and dreams for high school and college, to see how developed the vision is and whether it is in line with the parents’. Steer everyone (especially the parents) away from hard-and-fast decisions and goals at this point, since a young person’s experience in high school will inform and change them in significant ways.

Although financial details are unnecessary at this point, ask the parents to explain their overall plan for college funding—how much of the total expense they will pay outright and what contributions, if any, they expect from the teen through work or scholarships. Ensure the teen’s understanding by having him or her explain it back to you in their own words. Mention that there will be more-detailed meetings in the coming years as plans evolve, but express your delight at meeting in person and your willingness to be a resource going forward.  

About six months later, schedule two or three 20-minute appointments over the course of a few months, when you can begin offering basic financial-literacy education for the teen. This can be done without the parents present, which helps the young person know that you take him or her seriously. To the greatest extent possible, use apps or online programs so the teen can enter and manipulate data, making him or her an active participant in the process. Continually check in on their understanding, gearing your education accordingly.  

These are your goals:

  • Educate on the value of having a spending plan that starts now.
  • Help the teen list current and expected future sources of income and expenses, acknowledging that things will change over time as the realities of high school life emerge, and build a tentative budget.
  • Illustrate compound interest in positive and negative ways. Show the value of beginning to save a little money now, and how it accumulates over time. Also show how student debt accumulates over time and may hamper a graduate’s finances for a decade or more after graduation.
  • Introduce the idea of scholarship money and some of the various ways it can be accessed.

During the teen's sophomore year, schedule another joint meeting in your office. Provide accountability by examining the spending plan to see how it’s going and suggest any necessary adjustments. If additional money is desired, ask about the possibility of a summer job to allow for saving more money, while having a bit of extra spending cash as well.

Subsequently, as an adjunct to your annual review, schedule a brief meeting with the parents and teen to again assess the spending plan and the level of savings, determine whether any plans or expectations have changed, and answer questions they may have. In addition, keep apprised of the colleges and universities under consideration and make notes in your files about the anticipated costs of tuition and fees, books, room and board, travel, and other expenses, all of which are easily accessible on the websites of the respective institutions.  

Make sure you don’t restrict your conversations with the parents to only financial matters. Do frequent emotional check-ins over time, and be prepared for a wide range of reactions. Especially as graduation approaches, many parents wrestle with balancing excitement for their child with sadness that their son or daughter will no longer be living in their home and sharing their daily lives. Others, especially if the teen years have been contentious, are more relieved to have the child out of the house, even as they worry about decisions the teen may make without parental guidance.  

Some parents will struggle with issues of status and become personally invested in the child's success, feeling that it reflects on them as people or indicts them as either "good" or "bad" parents. Remind them that while their job is to equip their children to live alone competently, the older the child gets, the less control parents have over their decisions and choices. That’s why it is so important now to give kids freedom, let them make mistakes while they are still at home with support, and help them learn how to live independently and wisely. 

Make sure you celebrate the young person’s graduation, sending a card or gift. Perhaps arrange one more in-person meeting before the departure date. Then stay in periodic touch with the teen through college, serving as a resource and financial advocate.

While this plan is an ideal that may not be achievable with all of your clients, do what you can for each one and especially for those clients you value most highly. They see you as a trusted advisor who cares about the entire family, and the teen is more likely to stay with you for the long term. If interests go in that direction, you may even gain an employee in later years. At the same time, you gain the satisfaction of knowing you are doing the right thing for your clients and making a profound difference in their lives.

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

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