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The start of the new year is a fitting time to both celebrate how far you’ve come in the planning process and to create a vision of how you’d like the remainder of your journey to look and feel.

Here are some steps you can take to make the most out of this special point in time:

1. Examine, embrace and celebrate where you are

There’s no doubt that a lot of effort and commitment got you and your student to the place in which you now find yourselves. While it’s important to keep looking forward, pausing to embrace and celebrate the present moment – and to express gratitude for how far you’ve come – can be extremely helpful in the next phase of your journey. Take a careful look at what’s been achieved in terms of steps taken, decisions made, and the direction you are heading. It’s easy to focus on what still needs to be done but pausing to see the progress already made can be rewarding and will give you plenty to be proud of as you embark on the year ahead.

2. Reflect on the past year: what’s worked and what hasn’t

While looking back to move forward may seem counterintuitive, taking time to identify what has worked well in your family/student’s journey so far can be an extremely useful way of deciding what you’ll want to do more of in the year ahead. Getting to where you are in the planning process involved a series of decisions and steps of all sizes. So that the most impactful ones can be replicated, be sure to reflect on and make note of efforts big and small that contributed to positive outcomes.

Additionally, if you and your student experienced some bumps along the way, now is a good time to reflect on what may have contributed to those challenges. There’s a tremendous amount that can be learned from experiences that do not go as planned. If you’re able to identify and avoid repeating what didn’t work so well in prior situations, you’ll be empowered to achieve better outcomes in the future.

3. Set a vision for the year ahead

Decide how you’d like the year ahead to look and feel and develop strategies to support your vision. For example, if part of your vision includes making the planning process more enjoyable by not having the topic of college creep into nearly every conversation seven days a week, as a strategy you might consider setting up a dedicated time each week (less or more depending on where you are in the process) to talk about open issues and next steps. This will keep “college” out of other conversations during the week and make the dedicated discussion time more productive and enjoyable for those involved.

As another example, if your vision includes being more financially prepared to afford the school or educational track your student is wanting to pursue, there are several strategies that you can consider putting in place to support that vision. Even if your student is close to the start of post-secondary education, you can look for ways for your family to cut back on fixed expenses and you can continue to save and invest available funds over the entire length of studies (during all four years, for example, for an undergraduate degree). Beyond this, you can invite others to join you in the savings process. Friends and extended family may welcome the opportunity to contribute toward your student’s dreams and will have ample occasions (birthdays, holidays, and other milestones) this year and in coming years to do so. And as an additional strategy, you and your student can keep an open mind about educational options rather than focusing on just one dream school. Remember that there are many excellent educational institutions that may be a good fit for your student and some options will be more affordable than others.

It can be extremely impactful to visualize both the type of year you’d like to have along with the specific strategies you’ll use to achieve it.

Summary:

Whether you are just beginning to make a list of schools to tour with a student who is a year or so away from the application process or awaiting admissions decisions, evaluating acceptances already received, and/or anticipating financial aid offers for a high school senior, take a deep breath, focus on what you can control, and trust that everything will work out. Regardless of how busy and uncertain this time may seem, it’s important to remember that these moments won’t last forever as time travels quickly. The start of a new year is a perfect opportunity to ground yourself in the present and to remind yourself and family to savor each phase of this exciting journey.

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Patricia A. Roberts is the Distinguished College Countdown Contributor for 2022. In this first article, we’re grateful for this wisdom for parents of students who will be pursuing higher education in the not-so-distant future. Watch for more to come.

Yvette Haring, 529 College Savings Program Manager

Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.