College Planning? It’s Never Too Early. Really.


Some years ago, there was a TV commercial from an auto garage with the slug line:

“You can pay me now or pay me later.”

The idea? Spend a little now on maintenance or spend much for future repairs.

The same philosophy can be applied to college planning for your child. You can start early and invest a small amount of time and money on a regular basis over time. Or, you can face a huge financial and personal burden should you procrastinate.

As a parent, what should you be doing and when?

This chart provides the answer. The timeline at the bottom of the chart is based on the age of your child. Notice the focus areas below the ages.

Your first concern should be setting up a savings program.

Don’t be distracted by traditional college savings calculators. Determine what you can reasonably fit in your family’s budget. You don’t have to save the total cost of college; just do something.

529 plans may not be the right answer. Talk to your financial advisor about other options for investing for college such as a Roth IRA or a super-funded, whole life insurance policy.

As your child grows, incorporate engaging activities in their play that will promote academic growth.


Young children learn through play. Make it fun. Preschool should be considered for a 3-year-old. The socialization and learning experiences are invaluable in preparation for kindergarten and beyond.

Elementary School

Elementary school is a great time to encourage participating in activities that will allow them to explore and discover as well as learn to be a good steward of their community. The more they experience the better prepared they’ll be to make decisions about high school and college.

Volunteering to help local charities through school or church-sponsored events plants the seed for stewardship and community service. Lead by example. Participating with your child will have a positive impact on mom and dad as well. Make it a family initiative.

Middle School

Graduating from middle school, many students attending public school are being asked to make decisions about high school that could affect the rest of their academic life. Do they attend a specialty center or career and technical education? How does a family assist their 8th grader in making such an important decision?

Assumptions, presumptions, suggestions from the middle school counselor based on their limited knowledge of your child? That’s the norm. This is where an interest and aptitude assessment would come in handy to help determine what academic direction is most appropriate. You may not hit the bullseye, but you can keep from making the big mistakes.

High School

If all your effort to help your child grow academically and personally provide a return, then it’s time when they enter high school to start building their resume to bolster their future college applications. What extracurricular activities are they involved in? Are they taking the right courses to support their college plans?

Then there is the question of SAT and ACT testing. Do they need tutoring assistance? That’s hard to measure until that first PSAT is taken. Have they scored high enough to support their college plans?

Their college plans. How do you figure that out?

There’s a lot to consider:

  • The right academic path, the right school.
  • Is the cost of that education going to deliver the return you and your child anticipate?
  • What did the assessment taken in middle school tell you?
  • What career is appropriate and will it deliver the lifestyle desired? Which colleges and universities provide the education and training to earn a degree that will facilitate securing a job in that desired field?
  • Which of those schools provide the environment that is right for your student? Will they thrive there and do well academically because the campus delivers the support and activities the student wants and needs to be happy?
  • And last is cost.

This planning and screening process needs to start in the sophomore year of high school.

As parents, you need to understand how the admissions and the financial aid process works and how to manage it. It’s a lot of learning and a lot of research to have your student ready to hit the ground running come fall of the senior year of high school.

The moral of the story…

As demonstrated visually in the graph above, when your child is young, the options for planning financially and helping your child to develop personally and academically are vast. Your need for specific and critical college information is slight.

As your child nears college years, they have developed the characteristics and academic acumen they will have the rest of their lives. Your options to invest further or help your child fades quickly while your need to understand college admissions and financial aid spikes.

Interestingly enough, the two lines intersect in middle school. That’s where the conversation needs to begin.

Get started today.

Contact Richmond’s college consultants and planning experts, Optimum Ed. They’ll help you identify the right educational and career path and financial aid options for your child.

Optimum Ed offers a complete menu of services that assist families in planning for and executing a customized education plan.

(804) 417-4807 | Email Optimum Ed

Richmond Moms Blog is honored to partner with Optimum Ed to provide parents with the information they need to help optimize their children's education and career choices.