College Planning Before High School: Pre-K through 8th Grade

College planning isn’t something that should be started only in your junior year of high school. In fact, it’s never too early to start planning ahead! Parents taking steps as soon as possible can actually make the college process much easier for their future graduates! Here are some tips, tricks, and pieces of advice parents can use for college planning before high school!

Mom and child planning for college before high school.

1. Sign up for a Savings Plan

Parents of future college-bound students have a few options when it comes to savings plans. To maximize the benefits of these, parents should open them as soon as possible! Popular options include:

529 Plans

A 529 plan is a savings account that can be used towards education costs and comes with several tax benefits. Parents can open these accounts with as little as $25, but it’s important to continue to put money into the account throughout the years to maximize the benefits. 529 plans can vary from state to state, however, and parents should explore their options before signing up for one.

Coverdell Education Savings Account

Also known as a Coverdell ESA, the Coverdell Education Savings Account is a tax-deferred trust account that uses assets such as stocks and bonds. The savings are tax-free, but these plans are only available to families that earn less than a certain income. 

Roth IRA

Although a Roth IRA is generally for retirement, there is no reason you can’t open one for college, too! And if you’re not quite sure if your child will want to attend college, this can be a great option as the money can then be put towards retirement instead.

Traditional Savings Account

Another option if you’re not quite sure your child will be going to college after their high school graduation is a traditional savings account. It’s a risk-free investment and can be used towards anything if the student decides college isn’t for them.

There are many great ways to start saving for college early. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your financial advisor to see which path may be best for you.

2. Get the Child Involved

Involvement in various extracurricular activities looks amazing on college applications, and during these early years, it’s up to the parents to get their students involved! Sign them up for clubs, sports, or other activities you know your child will enjoy. 

However, be sure to listen to them regarding their wants. You don’t want to sign them up for soccer if they hate sports and would rather go to a drama club. Signing them up for activities they simply don’t enjoy can lead to burnout. Promote their skills, acknowledge their achievements, and be in their corner every step of the way! This will give them the confidence they need to succeed later in life.

3. Have Conversations Early

A child in pre-K may not be ready for serious conversations about college and careers. They may say they want to be a fire truck if you ask them what they want to be when they grow up! However, as they get older, it’s good to regularly check in with them about their goals and passions. 

Ask them what they want to do after school, if they’re considering college, what careers interest them, and what their favorite classes are. This insight can help you provide advice that matches their interests and goals. You might even be able to find them opportunities to shadow employees or join clubs that match these aspirations! 

Of course, you should also be open to their dreams, even if they seem unrealistic to you at this stage. A student in 7th grade may wish to be a doctor, but could completely change their mind by 10th grade and want to be an accountant.

Career planning, even before your child enters high school and college can assist in saving money in the future. If your child doesn’t have an idea of a career or major before college, it can cause extra years (and tuition) if they decide they need to switch majors.

Supporting your kids and having those conversations early can help improve confidence and lead to higher satisfaction with their career choices down the road.

4. Meet With Teachers and Guidance Counselors

Don’t skip those parent-teacher meetings! They can provide some amazing insight into your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If they need assistance with math, for example, you can help them or hire a tutor to assist. And if they’re excelling in science, you can use the opportunity to praise their achievements and encourage further interest. 

Parents should also talk to guidance counselors about the best courses to prepare them for high school and college that align with the child’s interests. Meetings with advisors and teachers also allow parents to check in with their child’s stress levels and behavior that may not always be apparent at home.

4. Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Did you know that some scholarships and grants are actually available to students before they are high school seniors? In fact, there are state grants that require the student to sign up for a program in 7th grade! Indiana, for example, has the 21st Century Scholarship. This is an early college promise program for those in the 7th and 8th grades. Participating students will have access to valuable resources and those who complete the program could receive four years of paid tuition! 

Check in with your state’s college grants to see if your area has a similar program. You should also consider signing up for a college scholarship database sooner rather than later as you can get alerts for awards your child qualifies for as they become available.

College may still be a ways away, but planning even before high school can be super useful. The sooner you start thinking about your child’s future after their high school graduation, the better. By supporting them inside and outside of school and opening savings accounts early, you can set them up for success!

Are you in high school already? That’s okay, here’s what you should be doing now:

Scholarships aren’t just for high school seniors. Scholarship databases help you find awards your child could qualify for – today. Sign up for College Raptor’s free Scholarship Search Tool to see if there are any you and your child can apply to now!