Following the discussion, parents could encourage the student to work part-time to help save for college or take more AP courses to reduce the time it would take to get a degree, and discuss the possibility of living at home during college.
When possible, parents should include school counselors in on the discussion.
For instance, Woessner advises families who can't afford to pay for all four years at a four-year college to consider sending their teen to a community college first. Since community colleges can cost a third of what public four-year universities cost for in-state students in Michigan, a parent who saved for two years of university tuition might be able to cover two years of community college tuition and a year tuition at a four-year institution, she says.
4. Evaluate the educational costs of career goals: Visit with high school counselors in the beginning of a student's freshman year to start thinking about college options, she says. Counselors can help assess children's academic and career goals to determine which schools are a good match.
Woessner weighs career goals heavily, especially in regard to filling in savings and scholarship gaps with student loans.
"If a student wants to pursue a career in social work, I'm not going to encourage attending a college where they'll leave with a lot of debt," she says. However, a strong candidate for an engineering degree can afford to borrow a little bit more based on future earning potential in the field.
Paying for college involves a balance of free money, including scholarships and grants, family savings and student loans, Levison says. To acquire more of the first two and avoid the latter, don't wait until a student's senior year to plan college funding, she says.
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.