How to Prepare Your Kids for College – Part 2

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Part Two: Practical Needs

In our first installment (Environments to Consider), we discussed the more ethereal concerns of sending your High School graduate to college. The areas covered were the three main environments to consider when looking at a particular school: the Physical Environment (residence issues, physical campus, etc.), Spiritual Environment (the underlying worldview of the school) and the Educational Environment (class work that is beyond that of High School).

To examine some of the more practical elements that demand our attention, it is best to sort these topics into financial, physical and academic categories. Again, this is by no means exhaustive, but these are three critical areas to focus your (and your student’s) attention on.

Finances: This includes more than tuition payment and books. While tuition is an obvious concern, there are many other financial considerations to address. All residential colleges provide a meal plan (for a price). Often there are various levels of plans a student can select at the campus cafeteria. This is where you as the parent and the student must reach an agreement. Simply stated, the cost of a 21-meal/week plan (typically the most expensive) may NOT be money not well spent if your student skips breakfast and likes to eat pizza every Friday night. Investigate the meal plan options available at the school. Counsel your student that whatever they eat on their own comes out of THEIR pocket at the time (over and above the purchased meal plan). You will do well to look into the cooking policy for the dorms (some will allow microwave ovens, toaster ovens and crock pots, some will not). In a strict dorm environment, this means that meals not taken at the cafeteria must be ordered out (which gets costly quickly!).

The social environment at college involves cost, too. This includes more than movies, pizza or going out with the gang. Often, there are dorm dues, social contribution requirements and other less obvious costs your student will face. While the dues and other fees are often nominal, they do add up over the course of the semester.

It is best to prepare your student for unanticipated expenses from day 1 (typically, dues, fees and other soft costs are collected at the beginning of the semester because that is when the students have the most money on hand!). Advising your student to ask the questions: “is this a mandatory cost?” and “what does this fee get ME?” before parting with their cash! The prudent parent will advise their dear student that tuition, books, room and board are covered by the means specified (loans, grants, etc.), but everything else is covered by the student! This is another reason why summer jobs are important – they will provide cash for the student while allowing them to realize that their social costs cost THEM in real dollars!

Help the student to understand that things will always cost more than they expected – and they are required to manage their expenses appropriately. What a great lesson in life this can be!

Physical Needs: While related to finances in that they will need to be purchased, there are tangible items your student will need to be successful at college. The obvious items include a good computer with internet access (laptop or large tablet is preferred), a cell phone with an unlimited calling/data plan, a wardrobe compatible with the climate and social expectations and other traditional school supplies (pens, notebooks, paper, calendar and any specific tools necessary for their field of study). Also, subject to school and dorm policies, food preparation equipment is valuable to have. Laundry is a topic to discuss (especially if your student hadn’t been responsible for their own wash before) – coin-op laundry facilities are in the typical dorm and some schools will offer laundry service (but beware of purchasing this service if it won’t be used!). Linens are an important part of your student’s day, also!

If your student will have a car on campus, you will need to obtain a parking pass (yet another cost) and make sure your student has all the equipment necessary to maintain the vehicle (including safety equipment). Gas money will also be a hot topic (after the second tank of gas) – but your student should figure something out before too long! If your student will be far from home, travel will require much planning. Be aware of the school’s calendar schedule and appropriate travel arrangements (planes, trains, automobiles) and their limitations (early booking, black-out dates, etc.).

Other needs will be identified by your student and/or dictated by the school environment itself. Too numerous to mention here, there will be “must-haves” that present themselves as necessary.

Academic Needs: Beyond the pencils, protractors and page protectors, there is the need to prepare the student for a more stringent course work in college. As mentioned in the first article, college isn’t High School – students are expected to work as though they were paying for their degree. This is because they ARE paying for it! This can’t be stressed enough; many a college career wound up being a waste of money because the student failed to apply themselves diligently. Better to take some time between High School graduation and college matriculation to ensure a more diligent student than to risk failing out of school (with no return on investment). Attitude is hard to measure; you will have to have the hard talk with your student (early and often as you continue this journey) to make sure this is the best time for this choice. Everyone wins when prudence rules the day!

As stated previously, this is all because we as parents want the best for our children!