Money Matters

Preparing your Child for College

4 Aug 2016 by: jhurley 

Summer is quickly coming to a close, and the day your child leaves for their freshman year in college is looming ahead. For most parents, the time has just flown by, from the moment their child was born until the day their child is starting to pack for college.  It seems like yesterday you were putting your child down for a nap, or helping with a second grade class project!  Here he/she is, standing before you on the brink of being “grown up” and taking on the world by themselves—without you.

Don’t underestimate the strong bond you have built with your child over the past 18 years. From spending time with your child, it is likely that he or she has integrity, values, and inner strength, thanks to the confidence you have helped him/her develop as they grew up and by your being a great role model. While this foundation will assist your child as he/she enters a new season in his/her life, despite this new independence, you will always be the parent. As such, it’s helpful for you to make the most of the weeks left before your child leaves for college by helping create a smooth transition from their home life to college life.

If you haven’t already started doing these preparatory things, here are several areas you can address before they leave:

Help your child fine tune important independent life skills before they leave. Does your child know how to do his/her own laundry? Is he/she comfortable taking public transportation?  Do they know how to access on campus resources? Now is the time to practice these skills with your child so that he/she can accomplish them independently with more confidence in college.  Do not encourage your child to send/bring clothes home to be laundered!

Discuss money matters. Although this topic is one you most likely have discussed already, revisit the basics of budgeting and share your own budgeting tips that have worked for you, as well as mistakes you may have made. Discuss how credit cards really work, and what the true cost can be of taking on debt at such a young age.  Obtain a credit card for your child with a low minimum credit balance to be used in emergencies, such as needing a new tire or an emergency trip home. You may have to co-sign the application in many cases; however, revisiting the damage that overspending can do is a good topic. Review what expenses they are responsible for and what items you will cover.  Also be sure to explain any funding of a spending card you have funded and how it works for meals and other items such as books or fees.

Ask them about time management skills. This will be the first time, for most children, when they will be fully responsible for every moment of their time… and juggling college calendars can be overwhelming for many freshmen. Share your time management skills and discuss with your child their course and college activity schedules and brainstorm how he/she might best juggle these new responsibilities.

Outline your expectations. Even though your child may not live full-time at home, they need to know that you are still their parent and you still have expectations of them. Do they have to maintain a certain grade point average to stay in school or keep scholarships? Do you expect to hear from them via phone, text, or email at least once or twice a week? Do they need to maintain a part-time job in order to stay in school? Whatever your family situation, make sure you clearly lay out your expectations for your child and re-clarify as necessary.

Maintain lines of open communication. Try to have frequent family meetings with your child before he/she leaves for college. Use this time to allow your child to share any questions or concerns he/she has about going away to college with the entire family. Consider giving your child a journal for use on days leading up to leaving for college and for their first year on campus.

Be prepared for emergencies.  As previously mentioned, before heading off to college, it’s a good idea to be sure your student has a firm grasp of real life skills, like doing the laundry and knowing how to use an iron.  More critical than those two abilities is making sure your 18 or over student has completed an Advance Health Care Directive that authorizes a trusted person (most likely a parent or parents) to make medical care decisions on their behalf if they are not capable of doing so themselves.

As eager as parents are to communicate what treatment should be given to an injured/sick college student, without this authorization, parents or another relative won’t be able to impact the student’s health care.

This document can be prepared by any estate planning attorney and should not result in a large legal fee.  It’s not recommended to write this document on your own or to use a sample from the internet. Keep a copy at home and give your child a copy, too.

Finally, as you look longingly at your child in the rear view mirror as you leave them at their college campus, take comfort from knowing you have given them some life management tools to transition to their new status of being a college freshman…and they WILL be home at Thanksgiving!

(As there was no room to discuss how to handle all college issues including roommates, one such guide is a book entitled “The Naked Roommate” by Harlan Cohen, available from Amazon.)

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