The price of a college education has risen dramatically over the last few decades – in many cases far beyond the rate of inflation. For example, a $3,000-per-year tuition in the early ‘70s translates to just over $18,000 in today’s dollars. But when I researched a well-known college that cost $3,000 a year back then, I found it now charges between $31,864 and $35,086 a year. And that’s far from the most expensive one.

But, regardless of the cost of college, for many families college is a must. Ensuring a child is well-prepared for a career makes college what I call a positive investment. So what are some of the things that can be done to help the students get the most value from that investment?

As the parent of three children – one in grad school, one in college, and one about to complete high school, I am well aware of what many parents face when it’s time for their kids to get a college education. I’ve written this article to share my personal experience and what our family has learned, in the hopes that it can provide some guidance to you.

Consider Making an Investment before the Investment

Our youngest child is in the process of deciding where he will go to college next year and what major he would like to pursue. Even though this is our third time through this process as parents, it is still a daunting process for all involved. This past summer, after our son’s best academic year to date, we discussed what he would like to study in college. To say that he was undecided would be a gross understatement.

We decided, in order to ensure our son didn’t end up in a college that wouldn’t properly prepare him for his future, we needed to help him assess his strengths and better understand the career paths that are a good fit for him. And fortunately, I stumbled onto something as part of my professional curiosity that had the potential to help.

The Power of Pre-College Counseling

I learned of a counseling service with programs for people at various stages of their careers as well as for high school and college students. My son went through battery of interesting tests and exercises that measured many different aspects of his aptitude and attitude. The tests took some time to complete and he had to be a willing participant for this to work appropriately. I have to say it was a terrific investment of his time, our time, and a few bucks.

At a follow up meeting with a counselor we learned the tests confirmed our son has great problem-solving skills, and that careers like engineering might be a good fit. While that confirmation made us feel better, it also helped my son to see himself in a different, more positive, light. When the conversation turned to another trait that was tested, the counselor said his results indicated that he probably would struggle to sit through a traditional lecture-style class. The tests helped him understand how his learning style made some approaches easier and others more difficult regardless of the difficulty of the content being shared.

Ready for the Road Ahead

Even though our son still has a while before he decides where he will go to school and exactly what he will study, the testing has made the process a little less stressful for all of us and helped him to narrow his focus. Our son now knows that he wants to pursue engineering at a school that emphasizes hands-on learning over traditional academic approaches. He knows that his learning style will require that he put in extra effort when classes aren’t aligned with his preferred approach.

Of course, this process hasn’t changed that he is a typical eighteen-year-old. Like many in his age group he’ll want to explore new things and will probably change his mind a few times as he pursues his college degree. However, the investment in pre-college counseling and testing met our objectives of providing him with a better sense of all that he is capable of and how to leverage his core strengths for the path ahead.

Modera is here to offer information and advice on every aspect of your family’s financial life. If there is an undecided student, or even an adult in career limbo in your family, please reach out to your Modera team for guidance.

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