Preparing for college from birth to college years

This college planning timeline is designed to help you identify where you should be in the process of preparing to send yourself or your child to college. If you are starting late in college planning as suggested in this timeline, don’t be discouraged; rather consider saving for college as much as possible. Remember your income and/or loans may be needed to cover college bills if you have no or very minimum savings set aside for college education. You probably have to do work more and harder to overcome what you have missed in earlier years.

If you are in the very early stage of college tuition planning, time is on your side to maximize your savings for college. If you take the full advantage of the early start by saving, in college years you probably won’t have to rely on your income or loans to pay for college.

As you review this timeline, at each stage or once a year, it is important to assess how your college funds (if any) are performing. What you don’t want is loss of your money because of bad investment choices. If you have positive returns or expect positive returns for years to come, it probably makes sense to keep the current investment. If, on the other hand, your investment is losing ground, review your options for alternative investments.


This stage gives you the maximum time for savings for college. At the very minimum, you should set up a savings plan for college. Make contributions to that fund every month for the years to come. The money accumulated in the fund over the years will help in college years.

Stocks generally have high return but so are the risks. Because time is on your side, it is probably a good idea to look at how high returns stock offer versus other investment offerings. Don’t forget to evaluate how your investment is performing.

Elementary school

If you are starting fresh, start with college fund. Stock investing may also be a helpful consideration. If you started in the first stage, it is still important to continue on savings.

Don’t forget to evaluate how your investment is (or has been) performing.

Middle school

Continue with the college fund or start a new fund. If you are starting a new fund, you may have to consider contributing a higher monthly saving amount than parent who started in an early stage.

At this stage it is important not only to evaluate how your college fund is performing but also consider moving out of stocks. At this stage, it is probably good idea to minimize risks with your money and invest in safe investments.

High school

In the freshman year, get rough idea of whether you (student or your parents) will qualify for financial aid. At this stage, it is also important to start moving any savings from risky investments to safer investments to such as money-market accounts or bonds. If your child (or the student) engages in extracurricular activities, this can help in obtaining scholarships. If your child (or the student) takes or encourage the child to take challenging courses in high school, this can also help in getting more financial aid.

In the sophomore year, repeat your steps in determining your eligibility for financial aid. Has your (or your parents) income changed? Income changes affect financial aid eligibility. Also, encourage your child to look into the possibilities of the college(s) he/she might apply to. Doing so will not only help you estimate how much money will be needed for college years but also help you get an idea of what specific scholarships or financial aid is available for the selected school(s). Also, encourage your child to take a practice test to college entrance exams. Practice tests can help boost actual exam scores, which in turn can help increase financial aid eligibility.

In the junior year, advise your child to talk to high school guidance counselor about the selection of college(s). Also, encourage your child to take advanced placement courses. Doing that helps not only students’ admissions’ chances at selective colleges but may earn the student college credits, which shortens stay at college resulting in saving you money.

Begin browsing scholarship guides. Your high school guidance office or library is a great start to find information on scholarships. You can expand your search for scholarship databases on the internet. Before the senior year, make a preliminary list of perspectives colleges of interest and plan at least one campus visit into your schedule to gain more insight into the school of your (or your child’s) interest. On your choice of schools, request material or information pertaining to:

  • college admission applications,
  • catalogs,
  • financial aid information,
  • special internship or co-op programs,
  • tuition payment plans,
  • and information on advanced-placement credits

Take the SAT (national college entrance exam) or ACT before the beginning of the senior year.

In the senior year:

  • request more college applications or information (if needed) for your choice of colleges
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Begin work on college applications and essays. Submit your college applications before the application admission due date. Applications are typically due early in the January. Finical-aid forms are due later in the months. Consult with your college to know of the exact due dates.
  • Retake the SAT or ACT in an attempt to improve score
  • After you receive your finical aid packages, compare these for each school you applied and determine how much each college will cost you out of your pocket. This is the time also to have one college match the aid offer from another.
  • Apply for student loans
  • The student at this point should be prepared to handle his or her own finances

In college

Hopefully, the earlier stages of this timeline has prepared you handle your college finances. That preparation will pay-off in your college years as the paying for college bills does not end with just start of the freshman year. You can always come back to this site to refresh your memory.

In college, the student should:

  • Reapply for financial aid, scholarships and loans
  • Seek additional scholarships or aid opportunities (these sources are helpful to your search efforts: your college’s scholarship/financial aid office, your college’s library, check with your state or local government for more aid,)
  • Receive friendly guidance about money management
  • Start search of an internship or a job not only to pay out-of-pocket college bills but also to gain work experience to aid in future career growth.
Posted on 9/16/2006
by Raj Singh