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When it comes to making financial decisions for continuing education, college-bound students should establish concrete plans. Here are some financial tips for college-bound students and their parents.

1. Set goals.
Students achieve financial stability in college when they set goals that are specific, measurable, reasonable and realistic. Before choosing a major, check if credits earned in high school can transfer to that program. Decide if it’s appropriate to go away to college for four years as opposed to living at home and transferring. Research the cost of obtaining a degree in a particular field and what the job market and pay will be upon graduation.

If an individual doesn’t know what they want to do after college, how do they know what income they’ll be making and if they can pay back their loans? It’s all about making a plan. Goals are important because they reflect your values and they provide you with a direction to go in. Build off that, and make your plan as accurate as possible.

2. Create a budget.
For some students, college might be the first time in their lives that they’ve needed to monitor cash flow. First, map out all income, including allowance, odd jobs, grants, gifts, scholarships and loans. Then, try to predict all expenses such as tuition, books, food, housing, clothing, personal care, and transportation. Consider using free resources such as planning calculators you can find online.

Preparing for lifelong financial success before starting college can be overwhelming for parents and students. Often, students end up graduating with mortgage-sized debts. In order to avoid this, a budget is critical, and so is sticking to it.

3. Know your options.
In addition to grants and loans, other options for paying for college include campus-based aid programs, 529 plans, pre-paid tuition plans, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, and Roth IRAs. There are many options to pay for college. Do your research and seek help if necessary. Assessing all options and forming a plan will lead students down the path to financial success.

Currently 91 percent of college students have credit cards, and three out of five students max them out in their freshman year. Too often, students are set up for failure because they do not make disciplined financial choices. A well-executed plan will make all the difference.