Paying for College: Talking Practically About an Emotional Subject

Paying For College Facebook Live Sallie Mae

Money. It’s a difficult subject. And having a frank discussion about money and finances with your student as they plan for college can be stressful. It’s a delicate balance between the practical “this is what we can afford” and the “follow your dreams” inspirational! So how do you discuss paying for college with your student, an almost nest-leaving adult, together as a family? What expectations do each of you have in the way of financing a college education?

Sallie Mae, a partner of Smart College Visit, broached the topic in their Tuesday, February 19 Facebook Live discussion.  Host Winnie Sun, managing director and founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners, a trusted financial consulting firm, spoke with mom-of-six Sabrina Malone. Malone is in the process of putting all of her children through college with careful planning. By September 2019,  Malone will have four college students at the same time, and as she said, “this is something we’ve been preparing for for years.”

Malone states that their students cast a “wide net” when it comes to choosing colleges to apply to, along with getting good grades to make them as eligible for merit as possible.  She stresses that having the conversations about money early, as a family unit, is most important. Her kids understand their piece in a larger financial landscape within their very large family.

The best tip from Sallie Mae’s Facebook Live: Malone says they have a spreadsheet, calculating the amount their family is able to contribute against the totals provided by the universities, and what then their students would be responsible for contributing, through grants, loans, scholarships or other means. The spreadsheet method is a great way to jointly create a visible road map.

If You’re Late to the Paying for College Conversation

But maybe you’ve put off the touchy money conversation and now you’re faced with grounding your dream-filled student. Find a safe time and space to have this discussion. Students might be scared that they won’t be able to go to college at all. So, find a neutral place to talk, instead of the dinner table. With a light hand, explain to your student that this conversation needs to happen, but you’ll work together, as a team, to find the best choices for them, and the family.

RELATED: What Is the CSS Profile and How Is It Different Than the FAFSA?

While loans are a good way to fill in need, help your student realize that paying off student loans can take a long time! Together, research their intended majors and career path. See what entry-level salaries are, and use that number as a “cost of living” barometer against a loan payment.

Overall, as a team, you can find a middle-ground area of understanding about money. And we highly recommend the Malone family’s shared spreadsheet method!

For More Information

If you’re interested in learning more about Sabrina Malone, you can find her at She has her spreadsheet available through her website as a download as well. Sallie Mae, a partner of Smart College Visit, is a leading resource for scholarship and loan products and information, and a good place to research paying for college.

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