The college preparation checklist for parents

February 09, 2022

Families that have conversations about college are more likely to establish a savings plan and identify key factors that influence the selection process.

Once your child reaches high school, you might start thinking about how to help them find the right college. When considering admissions, most colleges value grade point average (GPA), extracurricular activities and standardized test scores. You and your student will also need to consider a school’s atmosphere and your financial situation.

But before making decisions about schools, it’s important to work on building a college education fund. If you’re a new parent you may be wondering, “what kind of account should I open for my baby?” Whether you want to create a college fund for kids or are focused on long-term k-12 preparation for college, we can help you create the best savings plan for children and students. Use the following checklists to develop a successful (and realistic!) plan, and ultimately choose the right college when the time comes.

Learn more about how you can save for your child's education with a U.S. Bank savings account or 529 Plan from U.S. Bancorp Investments. 

From when a child is born to age 15 

  • Establish a college savings plan. Set a savings goal and contribute on a consistent basis without dipping into your own retirement savings plan.
  • Help identify your child’s academic and extracurricular activity strengths and take an interest in their study habits and homework.
  • Encourage grandparents, family and friends to contribute to the college fund rather than giving gifts of clothes and toys.
  • Sign up for summer camps that offer hands-on experience in areas identified as your child’s academic strengths and interests.


How to prepare for college in high school

  • Use the FAFSA forecaster to estimate the amount of financial aid available. This information will help you plan ahead.
  • Attend college planning and financial aid sessions and research financial aid programs.
  • Sit down as a family and identify important factors in choosing a college (two-year or four-year, location, cost, campus feel, academic requirements, etc.).
  • Discuss funding (parent and child contribution goals) so there are no surprises later. To get a good estimate, outline the costs of attending prospective schools.
  • Encourage your child to take challenging classes and develop good reading and study habits. 
  • Ask grandparents to give the gift of a living legacy to their grandchild – paying tuition directly to college is exempt from gift and estate tax.


During student’s senior year of high school

  • Work with your student to research scholarships and find good matches. Ask your student to complete the listed requirements and apply. Create an FSA ID. It is used to access your personal information on Federal Student Aid websites and to sign the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) online. Submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. 
  • Submit the FAFSA at to determine eligibility for federal, state or college financial aid.
  • After submitting the FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will arrive within three days to three weeks. Review, make corrections if needed and submit them to the FAFSA processor.
  • Review your family’s plan for paying for college. Once acceptance letters arrive, compare options of financial aid awards to determine out-of-pocket costs. Help your child clarify goals and priorities.


The final decision 

Take the pressure off your student by letting them know that there’s no perfect choice – and reassure them that they’ll be getting a great education no matter what. After offers arrive, have an honest conversation about finances. Although the final decision of where to attend college should reside with the student, there should be compromise between what the student wants (best match, best offerings for a major, location, etc.) and what the family and student can afford.


Let us help you plan ahead. Continue learning more about our 529 Plan or other savings account options. 

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