3 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Planning for College

3 biggest mistakes people make when planning for college

You’ve heard before that it’s okay to make mistakes, especially if you learn from them. That’s true, but obviously, it’s even better to learn from other people’s mistakes — and avoid setbacks entirely. That’s why we asked for some thoughts on the three biggest mistakes people make when planning for college from a few of CFNC’s regional representatives — Amy Denton, Takeila Hall, and April Query. Our representatives are often out in the field talking to students and parents about college preparation, so they hear people lamenting about what they wish they had done differently in their college planning process.

So, what blunders do people often make when it comes to planning for college? According to Denton, Hall, and Query, three errors come up in conversation, time and time again.

Thinking Your Kids Are Too Young. Query thinks that one of the errors everyone makes is putting off planning for college and assuming that their kids are too young to be thinking about higher education.

“It’s never too early to start talking about different careers and teaching our children that in almost any case, college will be a part of preparing for that career,” Query says. “Not all careers will send you to a four-year college; many excellent careers require training at a community college. But either way, college will be a part of it.”

As you talk about possible career paths, it helps your daughter or son recognize that there’s more to do once they graduate from high school. The earlier you begin, the more ingrained the notion of going to college becomes.

Of course, your child may push back and argue that college isn’t necessary because his or her favorite pop star or actor managed just fine without college. Or they may feel like their part-time summer job is a perfectly good career path to take after high school. Yes, your child is right that some people don’t go to college and manage to do well in life, but by talking with them about their goals and helping them work through a “grown-up” budget (Hint: go further with our financial literacy tools), you guide them toward understanding just how important higher education can be.

Not saving soon enough. Another classic mistake. Even parents who do save for college often and early probably feel that they should have saved more. Based on the conversations she has had with parents, Query says that you should be saving for college as early as possible, “even if it’s just a small amount.”

She adds, “Also don’t forget to apply for scholarships and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form early senior year!”

Scholarships offer students funds for education that do not have to be paid back. There are many avenues to search for applicable scholarships, including the CFNC scholarship search. The best part is that they don’t have to be seniors in high school to begin their search. Just as you started saving early, your child can begin searching for scholarships early too.

As for April’s comment on the FAFSA, why is that so important? To put things in context, NerdWallet reported that in 2013, 47% of high school graduates didn’t complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA is what determines a student’s eligibility for federal and state financial aid. These funds could help your child make their college education dreams come true, so make sure the form gets completed.

Thinking you have more time to plan. The calendar can certainly play tricks with your mind. Your kids are born, and it feels like all the time in the world before anyone needs to be thinking about college. Then suddenly your kids are going to kindergarten, and for a moment, you can feel the time rushing by. And then you think, “Hey, they’re just in kindergarten it’s going to be another 13 years until they’re in college. That’s, like, forever.” And suddenly, they’re in the middle of high school, and you’re wondering what happened to all that time.

“I think the biggest mistake that families make when it comes to preparing for college is that they have so much time to get ready. College comes at you fast, and the earlier you can start planning the more prepared you are once the time actually comes,” Hall says.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say that they wished this or that piece of information was shared with them earlier,” she says. “Parents and students should stay in constant contact with the school counselor. I encourage families to attend college-planning workshops held at their high school and make visits to colleges as early as possible.”

Denton agrees. “Visit, visit, visit and research, research, research all interesting colleges in the early stages. This helps you know your viable options for acceptance and enrollment. Even if your top college choices don’t work out according to your plan because of academic criteria or finances, you’ll be fully prepared with backup colleges. Don’t leave any option unturned.”

Certainly, there is no one right path when it comes to planning for college. Everyone’s interests and situations are different. But, the big theme that all three of our representatives want to make sure parents and students understand is that college comes quickly, so start planning now. Visit CFNC.org to create your account and begin your college planning efforts today.