When I meet with families, we discuss the idea of making a college choice as that old metaphor of the "three-legged stool." The "legs" are the elements of the academics, the social environment and affordability of a college. If something is not right, everything is out of balance.
Why is affordability so important? If anything, it could overshadow the other two elements of the decision. There is nothing tougher than going through a college search with your child, only to find out that the schools that are on the list just don't offer enough financial aid to close the "gap" between the family's expected contribution (EFC) and the actual cost of attendance (COA). As parents we hate to say no to our children, but we are not talking a new bike here or a spring break trip. We are talking about tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
There is no reason to wait until senior year of high school to have "the Talk." No, not that talk. I am referring to sitting down with your child and talking about money. How much can you as a family afford to pay for college? How much have you saved, how much will you need and how much will the student be expected to contribute?
If you have not yet done so, run a FAFSA4Caster or EFC calculator with your student. I do say "with" because the FAFSA is the student's application, just like their college applications. You will not fill out the actual FAFSA until January of the student's senior year of high school, but completing an estimator early in high school will give you a better understanding of what you will be expected to pay.
Each family has its own feelings and language about money. If you have not yet done so, the college planning process is a great time to decide how you want to approach "the Talk" with your children.