Saving for College: It's what you get that matters.

When you're planning for college, it's easy to think first about the cost. But this would be a mistake. Doesn't it make more sense to consider what your child will GET from a college education before you consider what you'll GIVE to get it? The hard deliverables of the college experience seem to fit into three categories:

  1. Knowledge: What do you want your child to learn? Do you want them to gain a greater depth of knowledge in a subject they already know about, or do you want to make sure they're exposed to a variety of fields of knowledge? If you know for certain your child wants to be a pilot, a playwright, or a preacher, it may pay to choose a school where the primary focus is on one area. However, if you think your child may change majors, look for schools (maybe larger schools) with several strong programs.
  2. Contacts: Who do you want your children to know? And where do you want these connections to lead them? As you begin to think through the question of "who you know" remember to think past the circle of friends your child will form in school (maybe through the fraternity/sorority system) and consider the influence that professors and other faculty may wield to help them along. After all, a single well-placed letter could move your child into their an internship, first job, or bring an easy admission to the right graduate school.
  3. Personal Development: What do you want your children to become? Do you want them to have some overarching way of thinking, approach to life, or belief system? What values do you hold dear, and which of them do you hope your children will adopt as their own? The culture at the college you choose will no doubt shape your child's perception, interaction with the world, way of life.

Financial planning for college is much like financial planning for any other worthwhile goal. You don't start by thinking about THE MONEY. You start by thinking about what's really important to you! And with college, what's important is what your child will GAIN from their time in school.

In the next article, I'll help you tackle the question of "how much." Until then, remember that college can be one of the best (and maybe one of the last) investments you'll ever make in your children.