Do you have a little one starting kindergarten this fall? Then you know about the countless things to think about as your child approaches their first day. Will my child make friends easily? What’s the teacher like? What should I put in the lunchbox? Planning ahead for college may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s certainly one of the most important things a parent can plan for, and it will sneak up on you before you know it. If college planning hasn’t crossed your mind, not to worry. Here’s a step-by-step college planning timeline for parents.

Kindergarten

As you are adjusting to your little one starting kindergarten, take the opportunity to start preparing for college. If you are no longer paying for full-time daycare or childcare costs, shift some (or all) of that money to college savings. If you haven’t opened a college savings account yet, look into the Oregon College Savings Kinder Grad program that will make an automatic $25 contribution when you open an account. Also, when birthdays and holidays roll around, consider directing cash gifts from grandparents and other family members to college savings.

Junior High

Encourage your kids to get involved in sports, charities, and clubs that match their interests. Not only will it enhance their education, but those activities will look great on college applications.

8th Grade

Take good notes during high school orientation. Connect with the guidance counselor to make sure your child schedules the course they need to meet college admission requirements.

Freshman Year

Start thinking about financial aid and talk with your child about college costs. Be honest about how much you are planning to contribute to college costs and discuss a plan for after high school. Consider all options, including 4-year schools, community college, trade school, and the military. Start looking ahead for financial aid options. Review the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and meet with your tax preparer to see what aid you could receive.

Sophomore Year

Ensure your child keeps track of academic, athletic, and extracurricular activities and any community service to include in their scholarship and college applications. Have them meet with their guidance counselor to discuss plans and get tips for scholarships. Consider opportunities for AP and CLEP options to get credit for intro-level college courses at a fraction of the cost. Start considering college options. Look for schools with programs that meet your child’s interests while balancing the cost of attendance. CollegeBoard.org and other online resources can help with that process. 

Junior Year

If you haven’t started college visits, you should hit the road. Make sure to budget for those traveling expenses. Consider planning your vacation around potential college locations. You can also look into programs to get in-state tuition rates at certain out-of-state schools (WICHE for Oregon residents) and pre-pay tuition to offset tuition costs. If your teen hasn’t been working to make college money, strongly encourage a summer job. Not only can it help with college expenses, but it will also look good on college applications. Work with your teen to create a budget that includes savings and look at the status of your college fund to make sure it is on track. 

Senior Year

Application time! Apply early since many schools have “early decision” programs. Complete your FAFSA and make sure you are following all current rules to maximize your opportunity for aid. Start stocking up on college must-haves. If your child needs new technology, consider those for birthday or holiday gifts, and have your relatives gift some of those dorm needs. Research and have your child apply for scholarships. See if your employer offers scholarships; check local organizations and scholarship sites. Talk about budgeting and managing expenses. Make sure your child can access no-fee ATMs on or near campus, and consider helping them secure a low-limit credit card. You will likely need to co-sign for the credit card, so watch your child’s spending habits until they get used to these financial guardrails. Building these financial habits will serve them well and jump-start their credit rating. 


It can be hard to focus on long-term goals when your child is still learning to tie their shoes, but hopefully, these tips will help keep you and your child on track for a bright future.

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