Having the College Cost Conversation
“Before we go to dinner, sit down, we’re going to have a conversation.”
If you were wondering how to immediately put a pair of 14-year old boys on edge, that phrase will work like a charm.
After a few frustrating weeks of trying to pull decent study habits out of our 8th graders, I had the opportunity to make my case to a captive audience.
If you were wondering how to make my parents laugh, tell them I talked to someone – anyone – about their poor study habits. It had to be me, though, because my wife, who was a model student, simply doesn’t understand their nonchalant attitude.
I recently wrote about the book “The Price You Pay for College.” If you read that entry, you may remember me pointing out that the book recommends talking about college costs after 8th grade. I said:
“(T)he book suggests having the first financial conversation about college with students after 8th grade, specifically drawing a line from high school grades to scholarships, aid, and the overall cost of college.”
While my kids are not quite halfway through 8th grade yet, I decided to have the conversation early because 1) they are each taking high school math, where their grade will count towards their high school GPA and 2) as someone who had terrible study habits, I know how long and hard of a process it can be to modify that behavior.
Without getting into the details, I thought might be helpful for others to see how I laid out our conversation. By no means am I saying that how I organized my thoughts and the flow of our meeting is the ideal – after all, every kid, parent, and family dynamic is different – but I always feel it’s easier to start by editing than from scratch.
- The boys and I sat at the kitchen table, away from distractions.
- I talked briefly about what they already knew: your high school grades can have a big impact on where you can go to college before explaining that those same grades can have a big impact on where you can afford to go to college.
- I placed the most recent 529 Plan account statements in front of them and went through what they were, how much is saved for their college, and how much of their college experience that amount of money would cover at both a public or private university. My kids happen to have two 529 Plans each, so I showed them each of their statements together.
- We talked about the importance of every class and assignment. While a music or gym class may not seem as academically important as math or science, the grades all count the same. When the difference between an A- average (3.7 GPA) and a B+ (3.3 GPA) can be thousands – potentially tens of thousands – of scholarship dollars, every point matters.
- I then transitioned into telling them that their mom and I were there to help, whether it be working through math problems, helping to edit a paper, or finding the best study environment for them.
We headed to dinner when the formal part of the conversation ended, but I talked to them through our meal about some of my experiences learning how to study and some of the mistakes I made along the way. Hopefully, humanizing the issues helped. Otherwise, I did threaten that they’d never get ice cream again if they didn’t start working harder, but I doubt that will be enforceable.
I should say that I don’t believe that grades are the be all and end all. I feel like the ultimate goal of schooling should be knowledge and comprehension, but since the colleges care, kids and parents need to care, too.
If all else fails, feel free to borrow the simple and quick poem I crafted for my kids emphasizing the importance of grades:
Get good grades so you can
Get into a good college so you can
Get a good job so you can
Get out of my house
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash