My son has entered 9th grade — eek! As a former stay-at-home mother, I have always tried to be financially aware of our current finances and future ones as well. And college is a HUGE one! This post is for anyone with a child ages 6 months to 18 years old and cannot pay full price for college. And if you can pay full price, this is for you, too!
I am hoping that this post is one of a series of posts navigating the college and financial route. Below I have highlighted the items that I have learned from so far this year. Some will be locally based here on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri, but hopefully, your city or town has something equivalent. All resources have links for more information. In parenthesis, I suggest the grade in which your child is in that you should seek out this information.
Image Source: https://www.missourimost.org/
A 529 plan invests money into an account for your child’s college expenses. The biggest benefit is that the money grows tax free. In addition, you will not be taxed when the money is withdrawn. At least here in Missouri, our plans are mostly invested in Vanguard funds which from personal experience have grown 13% over the past 5 years. Considering that most money market and savings accounts pay only .005% presently, I personally found this to be a good investment. You can use up to $10,000 on private elementary or secondary schools as well.
Image Source: https://www.thrively.com/
(4th – 8th grade)
Thrively is a service for teachers and counselors to assess student strengths. It includes social-emotional lessons for a fee, however, the strengths assessment is FREE. Once you are signed up, go to the “Dashboard” and decide on how to invite your class. You can import from Google Classroom using “Actions” and “Add Students”. Or you can use the link in the upper left. This is how I imported my students. There is an Action to Add students manually, too. I see there is a red “Student Log in Info” link in the upper left and it looks like students can join that way as well. Be sure to print their certificate after they assess their strengths! This option is also under “Actions” on the dashboard.
Begin career exploration with the Truity Photo Career Quiz. Students can take this quiz with no words and begin to think about jobs and careers. There are a ton of photos, so you may need to read them the directions and show them how it works.
O*Net – Search by specific career or “I Don’t Know” Section
This website has many common occupations, a summary of that occupation, how much education you need, and how much money you may possibly make.
For Missouri — Missouri Connections (Use “Guest Login” in lower right corner) – Under “Assessments” you can find interest surveys and students can explore what jobs match their interests. The inventory is 72 questions, so be prepared for a chunk of time. They also have videos for each job cluster (although the videos are little dry).
Missouri School Counselors can create a school login and password so that students can create accounts. This account will save their interest profile. Explore “Reality Check” to see if your career choice will support your “individual style.” (Under Assessments tab). To access your completed assessments: Go to “My Portfolio,” “Sort and Assessment Results.” Click on “Report” to see suggested careers based on your assessment results.
(9th or 10th Grade)
This non-profit organization should be one of the first ones to contact if you live near St. Louis, Missouri. We filled out the form and someone contacted us within a few weeks. My son was able to talk to someone in a field he was already interested in. She was able to answer some questions about area colleges. She also confirmed specific college programs in the area that her company uses for hiring.
This amazing program is also important for the next step, course selection. School Counselors have hundreds of students on their caseload, so getting one on one discussions with someone in the field is invaluable. It costs nothing but time and they can help you decide which courses are worthwhile.
Parent Teacher Conferences
Parents – course selection can be a daunting task for high schools with a ton of options. Options are great! Navigating them… not so much. The best advice I received came from parent-teacher conferences. Normally, parents may skip them or see certain teachers where a student is struggling. That’s totally okay! But if there is a parent teacher conference you get a one on one chat. Be sure to have specific questions about courses. I asked about science options and what classes were available for someone pursuing math and science. This would work of course with any field: music, writing, social sciences, etc.
Visit colleges! I was a first-generation college student. My only idea of what college was like came from watching movies which left me woefully unprepared. Plan vacations around college visits. Visit the campuses of nearby colleges in 9th or 10th grade in order to get a feel for how college is structured.
Take the PSAT
Plan and take the PSAT in 10th Grade. This test can help you get a National Merit Scholarship. This is also practice for the ACT and SAT. See your counselor about taking this test in 10th grade!
Begin College Research
(End of 10th Grade)
Begin College Research. My career counseling classes led me to a lot of career exploration websites like I have listed: ONet and such. I think this step is important because it will help you focus on which college you want to look at. For example, you want to major in aerospace engineering. Well, that limits the college choices right off the bat! Looking to go into journalism? Again, that limits some school choices as well. Once you have an idea of the career area, start looking at college tuition, majors offered, size of the campus, academics of the student body, average time to graduate, and what percent of need will be gift aid versus self paid. Ask the same questions at every college. This will allow you to compare answers. Take notes! You will remember the last college you visited the best.
Begin prepping for the ACT and SAT test. I usually purchased books and practice tests when I was a student. I know our school has a prep class as well they offer for a small amount.
(Beginning of 11th Grade)
Missouri Only – Additionally, here in Missouri there is money awarded depending on your ACT/SAT score. Bright Flight Scholarships are available based on those scores. You don’t have to apply. You will receive a letter in about 8 weeks after the test for eligibility.
(Beginning of 12th Grade)
Register for the Common Application. Revise and Edit Essays. Have an advisor to review application and essays. Submit in the Fall 12th grade.
(October 1, 12th Grade Year)
Federal student aid comes in lots of forms. As a parent, if you went to college and remember the FAFSA you filled out 20 years ago like me – this one is different. It is very easy and the online version makes it quick to receive information.
October 1st is when the FAFSA opens. I have been told it is first come first serve on some things, so you would apply as soon as possible. You can register October 1st and complete/submit it later if needed. I used this service personally with my graduate work. Although I did not receive much in aid (probably since I already have my undergrad and a Master’s degree in Education?), I am glad I applied.
(Fall, 12th Grade)
A CSS Profile has been mentioned on several websites. However, this is the ONE website I have NOT had personal experience with. I tried to create an account, but when I follow the directions it says “Bad Gateway 404”. Hopefully, you will have better luck. From the website description, you will have access to other scholarships and many schools require you to fill this out.