All over the country, colleges and universities are sending out acceptance letters to their incoming classes of undergraduates. It’s an exciting time for everyone involved, but most of us have something else in the back of our minds: What about the money?

Most families get some sort of financial aid, with subsidized loans being the most widely available. The first step to obtaining any sort of financial aid is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is fairly easy to fill out, but help is available from financial professionals. There seems to be an endless supply of identity thieves out there, and a lot of them use the FAFSA as a foil in achieving their goals. That’s why I recommend only interacting with the .gov domain if you’re looking for facts.

The debate about student loans is multifaceted, and one of those facets is the idea that people don’t really know what they’re getting into when they borrow money. I find it helps young people to appreciate the reality of student loans by quantifying them. I have not worked with any student borrowers who pay less than $400 a month. That’s easily another car or insurance payment.

A freshman in college may be surprised by the maze of new expenses that they're likely to encounter for the first time. The best way to make this process easier is to establish a personalized spending plan. It’s important to do the initial number crunching ahead of time — with or without your help. They should be tracking their spending and coming up with some long-term goals.

If they have a credit card under your name, keep an eye on it. I always visualized my kids’ rooms as non-stop parties (they weren’t) with drinking, rowdy behavior and things getting smashed — but I derived comfort knowing that neither kid was buying replacements for household items.

As for getting their own credit card, kids today have to wait until they’re 21. If what young people do with alcohol when they turn 21 is any indication, be ready for your kid to run up a flurry of debt — usually to finance travel, instead of slowly saving money to go on a vacation. Many 20-somethings end up paying for travel plus interest, making the whole trip cost three times more than the actual cost.

While we all know that going away to school is the first step toward independence, parents are often surprised to learn what they can and can’t do once their star student turns 18. Hospitals no longer look to us for medical decisions for our 18-plus-year-olds, and they won’t release any information to us, either. That is, unless you’ve already cajoled your kid into signing a healthcare proxy, living will or some other form of advanced directive that appoints you to make medical decisions in an emergency.

Another privacy law affects parents much more often. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) forbids schools from divulging information about the student’s grades or behavior to anyone other than the student. This can be remedied by having the student provide written permission empowering you to have that information.

Prepping your soon-to-be high school graduate for their first year of being an undergrad will take a while, so it’s best to start now. Help them with the spending plan, and then take a step back. And remember, whatever snobbery there may have been against community colleges is evaporating as people try to avoid loans. Science majors, especially, can thrive at state schools and community colleges.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 26 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is a certified money coach and the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money” and the co-author of “Mastering Your Financial LifeCycles.” She is the host of the podcast “Mastering your Financial Life.” For more information visit