We have our son on a path toward scholarship

One very significant part of both parenting and financial management includes planning ahead for our son's college expenses. We must make sure that we can keep up with the fast-rising college costs. He can play sports, but he likely will not win full-tuition athletic scholarships. We started planning when our son was two years old. We have also ensured that we put him into a position to win a good college academic scholarship.

Junior high school

Our son just began junior high in August of 2012. His high school records will become official in ninth grade, but we have him on the honors track in seventh grade. This track will allow him to begin earning high school credits in eighth grade. We make sure that he completes his assignments, prepares for his tests, and learns enough to continue in his honors track. The more successful he is - especially in honors classes, the more he can earn in scholarship money during his high school years.

High school / duel enrollment

By staying on the honors track through high school, he can also work a dual enrollment with local community colleges. As a high school junior or senior, he can begin taking college classes and earning college credits. The grades will show on both transcripts, and high grades will enhance his chances at better scholarships. Many standard track students at his school also take advantage of dual enrollment, but the honors students have an advantage come scholarship time.

Florida Bright Futures Scholarship

One of the most popular scholarship opportunities for Florida students is the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Our school's upper division counselors place students on the proper academic tracks for them to achieve the highest award possible through this program. Our son is on the honors track, so by his high school graduation, he could qualify for a benefit of $100 per credit hour for a wide variety of Florida colleges. Other programs award $75 per credit hour. The awarded amount depends heavily on grade point average, S.A.T. or A.C.T. scores, and community service hours logged during grades 9-12. If he maintains a 3.5 GPA (which we will make sure he does), scores 1170 on his S.A.T, and logs 75 hours of community service, he may qualify for the $100 per credit hour benefit. These requirements will likely increase by his high school graduation in 2018, but we will keep track of them. Many other financial aid programs exist, and we will watch as many as possible.

Personal savings and 529 account

We obviously cannot rely one hundred percent on our son's winning scholarships. What if he does not receive full tuition awards? We will still have to pay a lot of money out of pocket. Fortunately, we understood that dilemma when our son was only two years old. Our financial adviser put us on a 529 plan from Fidelity Financial Services. We electronically transfer $100 every month into this account, and we can use it for his college expenses. The account covers tuition, books, campus housing, and many other college expenses.

We may use this money for our son's college costs or our own, but we save it for him. This account is in very good standing; it has survived two major stock market downturns with little loss, and when the market shows progress, this account grows fast. Should he not go to college, we can withdraw the money for ourselves.

We began college planning very early in our son's life. We have prepared him and us for the very expensive tuition, housing, and books. We do not expect anyone else to provide for us. If he wins scholarships, we will rejoice; if he does not, then we have alternate plans that do not include taking out loans. We made the plans; we must also make sure that he follows them.

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