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Going Back to School, Thinking Forward to College

A friend cried when telling me how he’ll miss his son, who’s heading off to college this month.  My little girl just began her junior year in high school, her days holding my hand a memory and her departure just two short years away. Here are some ideas for us parents, trying to steer our children’s ship towards destinations filled with excitement, challenge, and promise.

Have the money talk with your child. Discuss what the family is prepared to spend for college.  Then divide by four, if she’s headed to a four-year college, or two, if she’s headed to one of our community colleges.  But this is not your annual budget because you can probably add $11,500 to that amount each year. Annually she might borrow at most $5,000 and earn at least $4,000, while you’ll qualify for the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit. This is probably what you can handle for an annual maximum net cost.

Be sure to have a few affordable, ‘best-fit’ colleges on her final list. Your annual net cost will be the college’s retail sticker price minus the scholarships she receives plus the $11,500. To maximize those scholarships, have her prepare for and take the ACT (or SAT) at least twice this fall—the December test score is typically the final one that will receive scholarship consideration. Applying to at least seven colleges will also increase the likelihood she’ll land the right one at the right price. College should create financial freedom, not indebtedness.

Confront your child if you detect any signs of ‘senioritis.’  Senior year is not a time to be complacent.  This is the final chance to avoid remedial classes in college.  Remedial classes dramatically reduce the likelihood of graduation, costing students time and money.  Find out what your child’s college choices require to avoid these high school do-over classes; then ensure it gets done. Good grades, an ACT score, or a placement test are typically considered.

And if your child might benefit from a ‘gap year’ abroad before starting college, have her apply for a Rotary Foreign Exchange opportunity. The deadline typically is October 1. A year in France, Spain, Costa Rica, or Germany can accelerate self-awareness and maturity, leading eventually to a much more productive, well used college experience.

All of us want the best for our own children– these simple strategies increase the likelihood.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of John Baylor Prep. The mission of JBP is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the John Baylor Prep Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to The show also runs on Nebraska stations KHUB (1340 AM) in Fremont, KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM) in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.


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