I always thought about creating a college fund. I even opened a small savings account when they were born. Now they’re in high school, time is running out, and I’m starting to panic. What I can do? Where should I start? Are they going to hate me? I really wish I had started earlier.

Begin: As their counselors, teachers, and friends help them assess their strengths and weaknesses in an effort to narrow down their career options, you need to take action now if you’re going to make it to college. Here’s how to get started.

Relax: Your first step is to take a deep breath and realize that you are starting late. You can’t change the past, but you can take positive steps to change the future. The fact that you are reading this article tells me that you are ready to make an effort to help your children as much as possible. It will take some time and effort on your part, but you will progress one step at a time.

Follow these steps: The following steps will get you started on a good structured path. You will begin a journey that will take you from where you are now to your youngest child’s college graduation. It won’t be easy or without some sacrifice, but if you do it right, it will be fun and your kids will appreciate your effort.

Step 1 – Family Net Worth: Prepare a current net worth statement so you can see where you stand right now. This is a financial snapshot that will show your assets and liabilities as of today. (You can find a free one page net worth statement on our site found at the end of this article, in the forms section, or by searching the Internet.) Once you know where you are today, each positive step you take will improve your net worth and help you in your efforts to send your children to college.

Step 2 – Maximize Income: Now that all of your children are in school, consider maximizing your earning and savings potential. If one spouse was the primary caregiver for the children, he may have worked part-time or not at all outside the home. Consider having both spouses work full time to add additional income to the family budget. These increased earnings can go specifically toward college savings, but be sure to put them in the right types of accounts.

Step 3 – Talk to your children: Discuss college and financial aid with your children now. Check out the costs associated with community colleges, state universities, and private colleges. Let them know that you may be late for the game, but you are trying to help them as much as possible. Depending on your family size, income and assets, you can get an estimate of your expected family contributions by using one of the online EFC calculators. Once you and your children know these estimates, you can start looking for your best college alternatives.

Step 4 – Let Them Help: Finally, encourage and help your children become more “Financial Aid Worthy” students. By doing the right things while they’re in high school and allocating their assets properly, you can help them qualify for more financial aid and learn how to further reduce college costs.

Keep moving forward: The most important point to remember is that even small steps will help, so if a college financial “Home Run” isn’t possible, a solid single or even bunt will help your cause. Anything helps, and if you keep making progress in your efforts to reduce the college funding gap, your children will see your efforts and be much better off.

In summary: Don’t beat yourself up. You are in the same boat as many other American families. His children won’t hate him, but taking the first steps now will help him substantially. Talk to your children and give them realistic expectations about what you can and cannot do to help. Remember – Where there is a will… there is a way.

With the many options for college, students must evaluate their own situation and decide which path is right for them. It will be easier if you know all the relevant details. They may surprise you, so encourage them and help them make good decisions.

To discover very specific ways to maximize your financial aid and reduce college costs, I’ve put together a FREE College Cost Savings Kit which you can download by clicking here.

Consider printing this article and sharing it with a friend. Many parents are in the same situation as you. By returning it, you could help them save a lot of heartache and also a lot of money.