There’s a one-liner that has made the rounds on T-shirts and bumper stickers: You can’t scare me; I have children. Here’s a tweaked version that takes it to the next level of fearless: You can’t scare me; I have children bound for college. If you can relate to the truth behind that humor, you might appreciate these 5 tips for parents with college-bound students.
5. Craft a Thorough Financial Plan
Beyond having a long-term plan for covering the primary costs of a postsecondary education and the determination to stay informed on the do’s and don’ts of college financial planning, it’s important to put the little things on the radar. Among these are hidden expenses that are hiding in plain sight. Add up these costs, and the total is no little thing:
- Activities fees and costs for things such as club memberships and parking can add up.
- Beyond books, there are the costs of buying and maintaining electronics and supplying basics such as paper and notebooks.
- Calculate potential entertainment costs. There will be concerts, nights out, day trips.
- Transportation costs can include auto insurance, gas, and maintenance; public transit; buying and/or maintaining a bicycle; and trips home.
- Snacks and eating off campus can run up a healthy tab.
- Along with health insurance, there will be typical medical, dental, and eye care costs.
- Furnishings and appliances may be on the shopping list.
- Clothing, toiletries, and household items will be a continuing expense.
How much students can save before school starts and whether they plan to supplement their income with a job are discussions worth having. And jobs are an area where the school they choose can help.
It’s also important for the student to be aware of the financial plan and to understand and appreciate the budgeting process.
4. Discuss Safety – Even the Embarrassing Stuff
Factors such as crime rates, campus security forces and procedures, and the availability of medical and mental health support systems should be part of the process of choosing a school. Be sure to cover all those topics with your student, but advise them that campus safety isn’t all cops and clinics. Also discuss:
- Simple safety precautions such as walking in lighted areas at night and in groups and avoiding places where they could be vulnerable
- How to avoid sexual assault and date rape, including becoming a date rape drug victim
- The risks of alcohol and drug use, from physical and mental dangers the substances pose to the fact that they cloud judgment and make users more vulnerable to assaults and accidents
- Potential issues arising from relationships with friends, faculty, and romantic relationships (think conflict resolution and smart choices)
- The use of technology that can enhance safety, from contact numbers on speed dial to apps that can make campus a safer place.
Beyond talking about locked doors, safety in numbers, emergency phone numbers, and other basics, let them know that the best safety advice is to have a plan – always. And be sure they know how to access on-campus resources.
3. Lead the Way Through Example, Teamwork
It’s hard to control the continual urge to helicopter in and get the job done for your student, both during the admissions process and once classes start. It will help if you have given them the tools to make the right choices and execute on plans you help them shape. Important abilities, along with the aforementioned budgeting skills, include time management, organizational skills, and teamwork.
The high school experience and the college admissions and enrollment processes are great frameworks in which parent-student teamwork can be productive and instructive. Leading from behind is the trick; don’t impose solutions, advise instead. And don’t rush in when problems arise. This is where they can test their mettle and gain confidence.
Remember, though, that leading from behind doesn’t mean you can’t grab the steering wheel if driving off a cliff is the inevitable result of what a student has planned. But be sure it’s a cliff they’re steering toward and not just a bump that can be a learning experience.
2. Arm Your Student with Practical Life Skills
Unless you plan to hire a valet and personal secretary for your student, this would be a good time to ensure living on their own won’t be challenging when it comes to simple chores and skills. Make sure they know how to:
- Handle a bank account
- Pay bills
- Do basic household chores
- Use tools, from lug wrenches to jumper cables
- Defend themselves
- Sew and iron clothing
- Do basic first-aid
- Read a map or use GPS
- Call a taxi and/or Uber
- Schedule a flight
It’s not too late to learn these things once college begins. USF offers a self-defense course for women, but you don’t want your student to get a crash course in changing a tire on a dark road near campus some rainy night.
1. Keep an Eye on the Calendar and To-Do List
If you’ve wisely decided not to hover over your student through the admissions and enrollment processes, that doesn’t mean your work is done. Your job description includes staying calm and instilling confidence. The best way to do that is to know what has to be done and when.
To that end, physically track important goals and dates on a calendar and check off what needs to be done as it’s done. Again, don’t be too obtrusive, but always be prepared to subtly point to the clock.
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.