A parent’s guide to help your college student start off right
Your child is leaving the nest for college! Whether it’s year one or they’re just back for the summer, make sure they’re prepared to head out by skimming these useful tips for starting college off right.
Focus on Needs
Living in a tiny dorm or apartment usually means that many bulky items simply won’t fit. Try to find multi-purpose items that save space and can meet more than one need, such as seating with storage built in. If living in an apartment, your child will likely have roommates who bring their own items. To save time, attempt to coordinate in advance who will provide what for general use, so you both can focus on purchasing essentials.
Consider a Car
Depending on proximity to campus and other needs, you may decide that your child should drive a car. Especially if your child’s college is far away from home, help your child realize that they will likely need to take the reins on car maintenance issues. Locate reliable car service shops in their area for their reference. Have the shops’ information, in addition to insurance information, in the car in case of emergency. If they park on campus, remind them to check if they need parking permits.
Pay Tuition and Books
Make sure tuition is paid on time to avoid extra stress for either one of you. The last thing you want your child to worry about once they are at school is whether they will get to stay and actually take classes. Contact the school’s student services or registrar’s office directly if you have questions about payment or due date.
Before you leave, go to the bookstore with your child, check out the books they need for each class, and decide how you want to purchase them. With textbooks prices reaching up to over $1,000 in some cases, you could consider showing them alternative ways of finding their books for much cheaper. Some universities or individual classes may have online textbooks or e-readers, which are either more cost effective or free altogether. Encourage your child to explore potential resources like the university or city libraries, book swaps, and local used bookstores to save money. If you buy books through websites like Amazon, Chegg, AbeBooks, or Big Words, choose the appropriate shipping to ensure your child will receive their books before they need them. If all else fails and perhaps until they become more comfortable with college in general, you may simply want to visit the trusted, old college bookstore, which should have every required book for their courses. Whatever method you decide to use, make sure you purchase the correct edition.
Freshman orientations provide an excellent introduction to the campus with tours, maps, pamphlets, and contact with upperclassmen who can answer questions. However, before leaving your child to fend for themselves, see if they feel comfortable finding their specific classes and important campus resources like the bookstore, the library, bus stops, and student services buildings without the tour guide. Check to see what apps the campus offers and see what kinds of resources are included. For low tech options, you can locate a paper campus map and remind them that they can also ask other students for help as well until they get a lay of the land.
Learn to Budget
Skills like budgeting are invaluable at any age and stage in life, but especially when young and living on a limited income. Before your child leaves home, discuss how to make financial decisions, how to write a check regardless of whether they will ever actually write one, how to choose which credit cards to get, and how to use them responsibly. Learning these lessons before they leave can prevent future mistakes and financial damage. You and your child can also monitor their bank accounts using their bank’s apps and online resources. Apps like Mint, Goodbudget, and Level Money can detect patterns in spending; show how you are using your money; and even suggest daily, weekly, and monthly spending based on your income. If your child can learn to budget and live frugally early on, then they will be more likely to survive and thrive later in life during both good and bad financial times.
Let’s face it. College is expensive and is only going to get more expensive. Because of high tuition costs, your child will likely need to get a job to pay for some expenses. Even if you foot the bill for car and health insurances, phone, tuition, and books, that still leaves rent, food, gas, and other living expenses. On-campus jobs are conveniently located close to classes, which might help them stay on campus to study. You could also suggest trying to find a job in the field they are interested in studying and pursuing as a career, but be aware that many of these kinds of jobs are often offered to upperclassmen. Although working while attending school can put more stress on students, it also can help them learn to manage their studying time more effectively and appreciate recreation time more.
Your child doesn’t need to have a 4.0 to get help paying for school. No matter how much or little you are contributing to pay for school, encourage your child to take ownership of their education by working and applying for financial aid and scholarships. Often it requires some research and work for applications, but thousands of organizations, private companies, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations offer awards and scholarships. Make sure a scholarship is legitimate before submitting personal information. Also check out the Department of Education’s Student Aid website (StudentAid.ed.gov), which has excellent resources and guides on applying for scholarships.
Balance Work, Study, and Play
One of the hardest lessons in life is learning balance. If you have college days of your own to look back on, there is no doubt you recall a few fascinating and educating classes, mixed with some boring ones, but you also cherish memories of fun times with friends. As a parent, you want your child to learn, focus on studies, and think about and prepare for the future, but you also want them to enjoy their time at school.
If you are concerned that your child errs on either side of the spectrum—partying too much or studying too much—express your concern for their welfare. They need to make time for both work and play. For those who thrive with structure, scheduling apps like Schedule Planner or Timetable allow you to plan your day efficiently and make time for fun.
At some point in the first year, many students who move away from home for the first time feel homesick, and surely most parents miss their children from the moment they close the door. With Skype and FaceTime, seeing your child is just a tap away. If needed, agree on a scheduled time when you can talk. Of course, calls and texts can be more frequent, especially for various emergencies, but at least you both can rely on consistent contact and an answer when calls are semi-scheduled.
Although your child is growing up, know that they still need your support and your love as they become adults and find out who they want to be and what they want to do. Reduce the stress of the preparation and enjoy the ride together.
By Lacey Kupfer Wulf