Note: This story is sponsored by College Avenue Student Loans
Paying for one child’s college education is already costly enough but throw a sibling into the mix and it can be downright impossible unless you’re sitting on a sizable nest egg or have an inheritance coming down the pike.
Yet, it’s done every year, by countless families, and not all of them are rich. According to a College Ave Student Loans survey conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights, the majority of parents surveyed have two children, with at least one in college. Of those with multiple children, about half plan on paying for the education of more than one child, while 43% have already paid for more than one child.
Also, it makes sense that siblings would have similar goals. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that college-going behavior is transmissible from one sibling to another. Those good experiences gained from attending college are being shared with younger brothers and sisters, which is great for the future of society, but tough on parents’ bank accounts at the same time. It’s especially difficult if both siblings are attending college at the same time.
But of course, the challenges don’t end with finances. You also have to maintain family harmony while figuring out how to pay for more than one college education.
“If there are two or three kids going to different schools making sure your financial support doesn’t cause resentment between siblings is important,” says Chris Manske, owner of Manske Wealth Manager and author of the book The Prepared Investor. “How to make it equitable is a real problem.”
While you may not be able to avoid family strife completely, there are ways to help two children attend college while still keeping things equitable.
COMMUNICATE EARLY AND OFTEN
Parents can elect to pay all, some, or none of the expenses associated with earning a four-year degree. Whichever path they choose is fine, as long as the same decision applies to all of the children in the household. The last thing you want to do is cover the entire cost for your eldest child’s education and leave nothing for younger siblings. To prevent that (or some version of that) from happening, experts say to create a plan, stick to it, and communicate it often to your children.
“In my experience, the first step is always good communications,” says Manske. “When children hear the same story from both sides it makes a big difference.” Let’s say you’re choosing a 529 college savings plan as the vehicle to sock away money for higher education. It’s better to have two separate accounts with each child named as the beneficiary, rather than commingling one. Contributions should be similar to keep things fair.
Tension can develop when one child doesn’t use all the money set aside because of scholarships, or a lower-cost school choice. “It’s really helpful not to look at the cost of their path,” says Manske. “Instead, look at your financial capabilities, and say this is what we are willing to do.” If getting failing grades or dropping out voids the arrangement, let that be known early on. If your child decides not to attend a university, the money set aside can go toward helping them pursue their career choice.
SCHOOLS FOR ALL, NOT JUST ONE
Setting expectations shouldn’t end with how much parents are willing to contribute to the pursuit of a four-year degree. It should also apply to the type of college or university your children can attend. According to that same survey by College Ave Student Loans conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights,83% of parents are planning to pay for their child’s college education, and 37% of those parents expect the price tag to top $100,000 or more.
For most Americans, paying for two children’s Ivy League educations isn’t an option, but state schools are. Well before your children begin applying to colleges, make sure you know what you can afford. One way to do that is through a net price calculator, which colleges and universities post on their websites showing how much financial aid your child is eligible for, and the expected cost of tuition minus that.
To maximize your children’s chances of being awarded scholarships, experts say you should have them apply to schools where their grade point average and achievements make them a coveted recruit. That will improve the odds of securing merit-based aid.
Once you’ve got everything calculated, if you still have a gap after federal student loans in the student’s name have been exhausted, private student loans can help cover the costs. Make sure to shop around for options that best meet your family’s needs, with lenders like College Ave Student Loans, to find things like flexible repayment plans, competitive rates, and great customer service.
For siblings who are attending the same university, Jacqui Kearns, who heads up financial education initiatives at Affinity Federal Credit Union, says to check with the financial aid office to see if there are any sibling discounts that could defray some of the cost. Kearns pointed to New York state as one example of a school system that offers discounts for second, third, and fourth children. Even universities are willing to work with families who want a second child to attend their school, she says.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX IS A REQUIREMENT
Ultimately, putting two or more kids through college is going to require that parents think outside the box, particularly if financial aid, grants, scholarships, and even student loans aren’t going to be enough. With the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities are closed across the country, and without a clear answer as to when and if they will reopen, distance learning is becoming a viable option for college-bound students. It can also be a lot cheaper than attending a school where you have tuition and room and board.
“It comes down to talking to your family early on and really understanding in the freshman year of high school what debt obligation you want your child to come out with,” says Kearns. “It doesn’t matter what position they are in line. It’s about their dreams and aspirations.”
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