"If I get accepted into one of the Ivy Leagues, money is definitely an issue," Harper, a senior at Wheat Ridge High School, said.
Though Harper feels good about her plan to pick a school, she doesn't have a plan to deal with all the debt she may accrue.
"I've never really thought about it," Harper said. "I don't know. I feel like it's so far in the future for me."
Katie Powell is the financial education program manager for CollegeInvest, an arm of the Department of Higher Education dedicated to helping people save and plan for college. Powell says parents and students should sit down and make a 15-year financial plan to deal with college costs and the repayment process afterwards.
"Creating an actual financial plan or a budget for college is a great idea and doing that with your student so that they understand that process," Powell said. "Many people don't make this financial plan before they go to college."
Powell says a plan can involve savings like a 529 plan. It can involve figuring out the use of scholarships and financial aid. It may involve discussions of which colleges to actually target based on affordability. Families can also plan to use other mechanisms like investments or certificates of deposits.
"I think that's a great idea in theory, but practically - very few teenagers will do that," Harper said.
Powell says she understands that. That's why she's trying to push this message that it really is important, especially with college costs going up every year.
"We do hear from students who are surprised at the amount of debt they have when they get out of college who don't have a plan to pay it back," Powell said.
One of those people works right down the hall from Powell.
"I ended up at a small, private, liberal arts college in Michigan and I am now paying for it," Megan Taylor, a financial education program associate for CollegeInvest, said.
Taylor admits she didn't follow the advice of her father.
"You will be paying for this for the next 30 years and I was like, 'Oh, that's fine. Whatever. It's no big deal,'" Taylor said. "I was 18 at the time, what did I know?"
Now, Taylor is still working on paying off a debt which ranged between $50,000 and $60,000. That's part of why she works at CollegeInvest.
"I don't want anyone to have to go through the same experience that I went through," Taylor said.
If you want to know more about the financial education programs offered by CollegeInvest, visit http://www.educationcents.org/.
Harper says as she moves forward into college, she will try to have everything mapped out.
"I think it's kind of scary when you think about it," Harper said.
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