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  • Jenn Steliga

How Much Is College Going to Cost Me?

A 3-Part Series

Part 1: Where does your kid see their life going?

When it comes to talking to kids about where they want their life to go, it seems like some parents could use a little prompting to get things started. That’s ok! Starting a conversation like this might seem intimidating (or maybe trying to get your kid to talk to you at all these days is like pulling teeth). I also think some of us are secretly scared that if we delve into the inner worlds of our kids and learn more about their hopes and dreams, we may not be able to make those dreams come true. Whatever the case may be, this series of posts will address how to help your kid gain clarity about what they want for life after high school, how to get there, and addressing the elephant in the room – how much is this all going to cost and where will the money come from?


This first post focuses on ways to overcome your hesitations about talking to your kid about college. It’s also designed to encourage you to learn more about your child’s interests – what sparks their curiosity? What are their strengths? Where do they want to go (sometimes we forgot to just ask and assume we know)? In the second post we’ll dive into more detail about how to pick the best path based on their interests. Finally, in the third post, we’ll discuss ways to fund their dreams, debt-free.

You can help your kids reach their dreams

I want to go back to the fear I mentioned above – fear of not being able to provide something for our kids that they really want. That’s a fear I want you to sit with for a few minutes. Be very, very honest with yourself. Is there a part of you that’s afraid you can’t help your kids get what they want? Maybe money is an issue – it is for a lot of people. Perhaps you’ve never really worked on intentionally designing your own life either so you’re not sure where to start with your kids. Wherever that fear is stemming from, I want you to take a deep breath and take a chance. This isn’t about you. It’s not even about being able to provide everything for your kids. This is about your kids. Giving them a chance to be intentional with their choices is a gift you can give them. They need you whether you realize it or not and regardless of your experience with planning for college or other pursuits after high school you can be their biggest cheerleader as they learn to navigate the world of adults.

So, where to start? Below I’ve listed three conversation starters to consider. But before you start talking, consider a few things first. One thing to think about is timing. Don’t run up to your kid right as they come in the door after school or after practice late in the evening and expect to have a deep, meaningful and revealing conversation. Try your best to find a time when you’re both less distracted than normal, and hopefully a little rested. Depending on your kids’ personality, know the best way to approach them. Should it be subtle, like “hey, I’ve missed talking to you! I was wondering if you’d like to spend a few minutes with me. I wanted to run some ideas past you”. Or maybe a more direct approach works: “you know, you graduate from high-school in 2 years and we haven’t even started talking about what’s next. Got a few minutes? Let’s chat”. Keep it comfortable for you kid – don’t come on too strong. Remember, the point of these initial conversations is to start learning about where your child wants to go in life, and they’ll be more willing to open up to you if you approach it in a non-judgmental, curious and open way.

Three Conversations

1. What are you most curious about for a potential career?

2. Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

3. Any ideas on where you would like to live?

Keep the questions open-ended, not closed (avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no). A great question to ask as a follow up to any other question is “what else”. This encourages them to elaborate on ideas. Keep asking “what else” until they seem done with a subject. If they shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know” to every question you ask them, try framing it this way: “if you DID know what type of career you’d be interested in, what might that be”? Making a question hypothetical often gives people more license to be creative and brainstorm without fear of judgment or having to commit to a certain response.

Speaking of fear of judgment - don’t judge! Don’t judge anything they say. If you ask what type of career they’re interested in and your response is something along the lines of “well, you’ll never make any money doing that”, or “why would you want to do that?” (with a judgmental tone) you’ve just lost your kid. They’ll close up and good luck trying to get back in any time soon. You’re in the beginning stages right now. The goal is to be curious and learn more. Once they’re sharing and the information is flowing you can start to funnel down the conversations into the more practical pieces like salary outlook, best training program or school, cost, etc.

Another fun element to add into these conversations is the notion that utilizing our strengths can be a phenomenal asset in reaching our dreams. Try out the free character strengths assessment from the VIA Institute on Character. There’s an adult version for anyone 18 years and older, and one for kids ages 10-17. If you want more, you can purchase a youth strengths profile for about $10. Click here to explore more:

Now that you have a better idea of the career path your child is interested in pursuing you can start to jump into best ways to get them the training and education they need. Now, I’m assuming you’ve read some of my blog posts before or know that I’m a financial coach; if so, you know that the foundation of this conversation is going to center around how to help your kid achieve their goals debt free.

Here are a few ideas for next steps:

1. Know your budget. What can you contribute as a family to your child’s education?

2. Educate yourself on scholarship research – make it a part time job! There are scholarships to be won, your kid just needs to start looking and applying.

3. Is college even necessary right away? Would trade school be better? Or entering the workforce directly?

Check back for Part 2 of this series and we’ll get into this topic more. In the meantime, if a coaching session would be helpful for you, your child, or your family, schedule a free consult here! I use the strengths assessment as a base for all of my coaching sessions and bring the experience of career coaching and financial coaching into my conversations with families exploring their options for their child’s life after high school. Let’s give them a chance to start life on a path they love, without the shackles of debt.

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