A Parent’s Guide to College 101
I remember the initial relief I felt after we placed the college deposit for our daughter, and the rush of anxiety that immediately followed about what came next. After two kids and six years as a college parent, plus four years of writing about it, I am telling you to relax. You don’t need to stress, well at least not as much as I did.
This is the first of two posts on surviving the run-up to freshman year without making yourself crazy, including the surprising things I learned along the way. Part one is the essential summer to-do list and part two focuses on what to expect at move-in day and beyond.
First and Most Important!
Your teenager must read and/or forward you all emails he gets from the college because he is their main contact, not you. Get used to it. Those emails contain info like the list of required vaccinations and orientation dates.
Get Your Student Ready To Handle His/Her Personal Finances
If you’re worried about your teen managing his money, put him on a monthly or semester budget for the first year.
If possible, have your teen open a bank account that has a branch in your area and at least an ATM on or within walking distance of campus.
Ask about a “college account” which has a lower minimum balance requirement.
Most students do fine with just a debit card. Consider giving your teen a credit card on your account for emergencies only if you are absolutely sure she won’t abuse it.
Many college ID cards include a debit account feature, meaning you load money onto the card and use it like a bank debit card. Depending upon the college, the card can be used for laundry services, campus stores, food kiosks, and stores off campus.
My kids were also able to use theirs at businesses that had locations near campus, like Panera, CVS, and Starbucks.
When picking a meal plan, never choose the highest one.
Save your money and go for the medium or low option, adding more swipes if your student runs down later in the semester.
Talk about money. Hopefully by now you’ve had a family discussion on who’s paying the tuition bill and how. Make sure your teen understands what he’s responsible for, including signing for a loan, paying for books, getting an on- or off-campus job, paying his way home, etc.
Start Off College In Good Health
Schedule doctor, dentist, and any other health-related appointments for before he leaves for school, otherwise it will be winter break before your student has time to visit a medical professional of any type.
This includes refilling medications. You don’t want to get a call that his asthma inhaler is empty two weeks into the semester.
Order insurance cards for your health, dental, and prescription plans for your child.
You will not be there the first time she visits a campus doctor or pharmacy.
Colleges require students to have health insurance. That being said, the campus health center is often not in-plan.
Verify this information with your insurance company first, then purchase the college’s health center-only plan, if necessary.
Make sure your student has a list of her allergies and daily medications in her phone or on a card in her wallet.
She will need that for trips to the health center, and I guarantee there will be at least one visit during the year.
Seriously consider getting a health care proxy for your child if he’s over 18; privacy laws prevent medical facilities from contacting you without his permission.
Learn more in my post on what to do when your child is sick at college.
Schedule Orientation Early
At orientation with my daughter, I was surprised to learn that picking her fall semester classes was on the schedule.
Be aware that you will probably not be asked to participate in this session. Yes, really.
Schedule orientation earlier rather than later in the summer if you can.
Though colleges say it isn’t so, the last groups tend to get shut out of classes.
Make sure your student takes the required online tests before orientation.
My son hadn’t read an email carefully (see earlier warning), and needed to make time to take an exam at orientation.
All AP and IB test results should be sent soon in order to have the credits applied to your freshman’s college transcript before orientation.
Packing For College
Instead of the stereo, electric typewriter, and bulky television most of us brought to campus, today’s freshman only needs a laptop to do the work of all three.
Colleges usually offer good deals on computers, so consider purchasing one during orientation, which should give your teen access to free or cheap repairs on campus. Check out any student discounts on software, too.
Shop college or dorm room sales.
Visit the websites for the Container Store, Target, and Bed, Bath & Beyond to sign-up for special sales, coupons, and downloadable packing lists.
You don’t need to buy everything the college suggests. My key items to bring include chargers for all electronic devices, a fan since it will still technically be summer when the semester starts, a power strip, favorite snack foods, rain gear, memory sticks, dorm tool kit and a reusable water bottle. For more essentials, click here packing suggestions from other parents
You will forget to pack stuff, or the roommate will bring something that makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it, too.
Don’t freak out. Just find the closest box store.
Important Talks to Have with Your Almost College Student
You can never have too many discussions about drinking, drugs, and sex as your child transitions to college.
Impart your best advice without preaching. Kids approach their independence in different ways, and you have to hope some of what you’ve taught them over the years has sunk in.
My next guest post will cover what to expect after you drop your freshman off at college.
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Anne Vaccaro Brady created the blog, “Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle,” where she shares information and insight on the college admissions process and the freshman experience for parents and students. She holds a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and has been an editor for national magazines, including the teen magazine Sassy, and worked in public affairs for Purchase College, SUNY. She is a freelance writer and college admissions essay coach. The younger of her 2 children graduates college this month, bringing to an end her life as a college parent.