When it comes to college, money matters. For Indiana parents with students heading to college, money can also very hard to talk about. So, how is paying for college in Indiana different, and how can parents talk to their students about this touchy topic?

In my role helping Indiana students figure out their own college paths, I’ve been involved in a lot of these kind of conversations. Here are 5 questions every Indiana parent needs to ask themselves (and talk about with their student!)

1) How do I talk to my student about our financial situation?

Why it matters: Okay, this one is important to figure out no matter what state you live in. Your student is making an important financial decision. Often, I talk to students in the fall of their senior year who have particular ideas of what their family finances are. Then, in the late spring, they learn the truth, often too late to apply anywhere else. Students try to make the smartest decision possible, but they need to know the facts.

Action Items:

  1. Ask, ”What’s your understanding of what we can contribute to your college education?”
  2. Fill out the FAFSA together, and explain the different savings accounts your family has.
  3. Ask your student to create a budget for their freshmen year, then review it together.

Further reading:
Charles Schwab Money Talk has basic guidance for family financial conversations.
Talking about money rules gives advice on how to have these “tough” talks.

2) How does money factor into the college decision?

Why it matters: Students ask this question all the time. The college decision has so many factors, and money is the most obvious decision factor. Students need to understand how tuition can be an investment for their future. Another important factor is the intellectual challenge. College is a time for geeking out and having your world challenged. It can be worth spending a little more to improve your analytical skills and be on the right career path.

Action Items:

  1. Ask how important finances are to your student’s top college pick.
  2. Make a list together of the pros and cons of using loans to help pay for college.
  3. Talk about the difference between the “sticker price” and “net price” for college.
  4. If you don’t qualify for the 21st Century Scholar Grant, look into other state scholarship programs.

Further Reading:
College Reality Check shows the average net price for students by income brackets.
Bloomberg Business takes a worthwhile opinion on student loans.
Indiana Student Loan Debt shows the average debt for students at IN’s 4-year schools.

3) When does my student need to know our financial situation?

Why it matters: This one has a solid answer: your student needs to know as soon as possible. Certain grants, scholarships and aid are available for different income brackets. In Indiana, students should know as early as middle school to take advantage of the 21st Century Scholar program. It is imperative to apply for the 21st Century Scholar program on time.

Action Items:

  1. Find out if your student has gotten any information about 21st Century Scholars at school.
  2. Ask, “What do you think 21sst Century Scholars invite means for you? For our family?”
  3. Together, make a list of all the schools your student is applying to, and find out what percentage of students get scholarships?

Further Reading:
21st Century Scholar Program handouts by grade is a fantastic resource for every IN family.
US World and News Report Ranking of scholarship tells you how students are paying for college.
The Most Generous Schools lists the places the give the most in scholarships to their students (hopefully your top picks are on this list!)

4) Isn’t it cheaper to stay in Indiana?

Why it matters: I often talk to Indiana students who limit themselves to this state. Indiana is a wonderful state with multiple top 50 institutions. It often makes sense to stay in state. That said, often times, more money can be found out of state. Yes, state institutions are definitely cheaper in state. It might cost less to attend IU-Bloomington than University of Illinois. That said, private institutions out of state often offer many scholarships in order to compete with Indiana state tuition. Because of that, don’t limit applications to only in-state schools.

Action Items:

  1. Put together a comparison for costs and benefits for in-state vs. out-of-state: make sure to count 21st Century Scholarships, out-of state scholarships, Pell Grants (for in- and out-of-state) and room and board fees.
  2. Find out if the school is in the Midwest Student Exchange Program.
  3. Discuss if staying in Indiana is important for career goals. Think about the location of alumni networks and desired internships.

Further Reading:
10 Most Expensive and 10 Most Affordable Out of State Universities
What to know about out of state tuition for detailed insights.
The Midwest Student Exchange Program can open a lot of doors for Indiana students.

5) What does it actually mean to be a 21st Century Scholar?

Why it matters: The 21st Century Scholar grant helps Indiana students pay for in-state college tuition. To qualify, students start filling out paperwork in 7th grade and follow the pledge through high school and college. In short, students must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, earn a Core 40 diploma, attend mandatory events and file the FAFSA by March 10th. Important note: missing deadlines or losing income eligibility can lead to losing the grant.

Action Items:

  1. Talk about how Pell Grants and the 21st Century Scholar grant work together.
  2. Gather all documents you need to fill out the FAFSA on time. (March 10th, for 2015.)
  3. Estimate how much in loans would be needed for tuition, room, and board for different schools.

Further Reading:
The 21st Century Scholar crash-course: Enrollment Checklist, Eligibility (Income), Requirements
IU’s 21st Century Scholar Office
IU’s Housing with 21st Century

Remember, parents can be a HUGE help to high school students making college decisions, and it doesn’t mean you have to take over the entire process. What topics do you talk about with your student to get them thinking about how to pay for college?

Authored by Kate Hunger

Kate helps students find their best fit school. She writes about the essential, surprising, and sometimes funny questions everyone has while applying to college.