Your child got accepted to college – congratulations! Now what?

Even as you both celebrate this great achievement and exciting new phase of life, it is essential to set aside a little time to discuss a more practical concern with your son or daughter: The costs of college and the important financial choices your child will face in the coming years.

Here are a few potential topics to get you started. 

School Selection

Your child may have the elite university that is three states away high on his or her list, but financial considerations should become part of the conversation if their preferred major is offered at a respected local college with a much lower price tag.

Though cost will often not be the only factor in the decision-making process, the ability to compare tuition costs to the income your child can expect to earn upon graduation will no doubt help clarify your options.

For basic differences in the costs of various types of institutions, this data from The College Board can help shed some light on the pros and cons:¹ 

Type of College

Average Published Yearly Tuition and Fees

Public Two-Year College (in-district students)


Public Four-Year College (in-state students)


Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students)


Private Four-Year College


Lowering the Price Tag

The building blocks of savings for college, such as a tax-advantaged 529 plan, can help make the costs of tuition more manageable. If you’re working to save money for some or all of your student’s education, consider using a college savings planner to help you navigate the process. And remember that it isn’t one size-fits-all, the best savings strategies may vary depending on the age of your child.

Though college prices continue to rise, many students pay much less than the stated costs.

Private nonprofit colleges and universities, for example, provided an average of 49.1 percent tuition discount rates for first-time full-time students in 2016-2017, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers organization.² Among all undergraduates represented by participating 411 private nonprofit institutions, the estimated institutional tuition discount rate was 44.2 percent.

That institutional discount often includes scholarships, grants and financial aid. For many students, however, student loans also form a piece of the college-payment puzzle. If your son or daughter will be amongst that number, it’s important to help them understand the obligations that come with such debt—before they sign on the dotted line. A student loan calculator can help you estimate what a student loan payment might look like after graduation and put that into the context of other bills and expected income.

It’s also important to note, the need for awareness goes both ways. Many parents co-sign for their children’s college loans. If you plan to co-sign for your children’s student loans—as many parents now do—you have your own set of potential future responsibilities for which to prepare: The incurred debt would fall completely upon your shoulders if your child were ever unable to pay.

Setting Standards

The expenses of the college years don’t begin and end with tuition: There will also be bills for room and board, food, and travel—to and from home, yes, but also likely elsewhere—as well as entertainment.

For many students, college presents their first encounter with money management, credit card offers and other consequential fiscal choices.

Thankfully, there are ways you can make this transition smoother: Help your student develop a basic monthly budget to help keep spending in check. Make a commitment not to bail her out. (If she blows her budget on a pair of new boots, it’s ok to let her eat Ramen noodles until the end of the month.) It will be easier for your child to learn good budgeting now rather than 10 years down the road when more responsibility is paired with less of a safety net.

Take time to talk with your son or daughter about the pros and cons of credit. While there are good reasons to use credit cards, it’s sometimes easy for young people to use cards too freely and get in over their heads. Before opening a credit card account, your child should understand compounding interest, the importance of good credit, and how carrying a balance on a credit card could affect one’s credit and financial life.

By educating your student and setting standards, you’ll help him or her build lasting financial stewardship.


This article is intended to promote awareness and is for educational purposes only.

¹ College Board. (2018). College costs: FAQs. Retrieved from

² National Association of College and University Business Officers. (May 2017). Private college tuition discounts hit historic highs again. Retrieved from