College is the first leap towards adulthood that most kids take, and it’s not always easy for the parents.
It may always be an emotional process, but there are some things you can do to help prepare your child for the experience. You’ll have just a little bit less to worry about when you know he or she is ready.
1. Save money, and lots of it
Not only may you need money to help with college tuition, but you’ll also need to be prepared for the “emergency transfer.” Your child may or may not need it, but it’s good to be prepared in the event you have to transfer money to your student while they’re away.
As for tuition, every family has their own philosophy and savings plan. Some families insist that the kids pay for college themselves. This is even more common in families with multiple children. In other families, the parents pay or take on a loan to send their kids away to school. And still, others work out a shared responsibility for college costs. Decide which plan is right for your family early on, so everyone can be prepared to chip in with their share.
2. Encourage your kids to get a head start on college-level courses
Do you worry that your kids will be overwhelmed with college coursework? It’s always a good idea for students to take at least one college-level course in high school to help prepare them for the real thing. There is a difference between the two, and college courses tend to come with less leniency. It’ll be good for your kids to experience what it’s like to do a few college assignments before they’re loaded down with them.
3. Remember your own deadlines
If you’re filing for financial aid, you will have important deadlines to meet. Know what they are, so you can submit everything on time. File your income taxes early or on time to get the process started. Then, find out when and how to fill out financial aid forms, such as FAFSA. When you’re done, don’t let them sit around collecting dust. Pop those forms in the mail before the ink dries. These are deadlines you do not want to miss.
4. Talk about your kids’ responsibilities
This is likely the first time your kids will be away from home for an extended time. You’ll want some level of confidence in their ability to make responsible decisions.
Talk to your kids about the social and personal responsibilities they’ll have while they’re away at school. This conversation should include how to balance fun and schoolwork. Talk about drinking alcohol in moderation and the dangers of study drugs. Let them know that the decisions they make now can have consequences for the rest of their lives. Drugs and alcohol can get them kicked out of school – or worse.
5. Encourage Community Involvement
Whether or not your child was involved in extracurricular activities in high school, try to encourage her to take up some outside interests in college. When kids are away at school, they have a lot of flexible time to manage on their own. Much of that time will be spent studying (we hope), and the rest is open.
If your child is an active volunteer or involved in a club or sport, this is more time that you know will be spent productively. Part-time or summer jobs are also great options for many students. This way, they’ll earn some cash and learn the value of working.
As you’re preparing to send your child off to college, also think about what your life will be like when he’s away. If you’ll soon be an empty-nester, you may want to start thinking about finding activities for yourself. Most parents are surprised at how quiet the house becomes when their kids have left for college. It hits some harder than they expect, so do what you can to prepare yourself for their absence too.
If you’ve raised a relatively responsible young adult, you can breathe a little easier during this process. Prepare them as much as you can, and then trust that they’ll make wise decisions whenever they have the opportunity.