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Heading off to college marks the beginning of a big transition for both students and their parents. This process requires equal parts patience and planning, and for the student, a hefty dose of adulting skills.
What is adulting exactly? It’s doing the things that an adult is expected to do–even if it’s not always fun.
We asked parents in our Paying for College 101 (PFC101) group to share what they thought were key adulting skills for college freshmen to master. Here’s what they had to say.
(Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.)
Become More Independent
Being a college student requires stepping up and handling tasks, such as:
Making your own appointments. End of junior year… YOU are in charge of your calendar!
Filling out your own paperwork at the doctor’s office!
Filling your own prescriptions. Every insurance is different (retail pharmacy versus express scripts), and students have to plan ahead before they run out of medication.
Asking questions of businesses, calling stores to ask if they have an item in stock, trying to figure out how to register for a community college class, etc.
Parents: Have them [initiate the conversation] with the receptionist/doctor/dentist/etc. or with teachers/admins when they have issues at school. I am there for backup, but I have them lead the conversation as much as possible. They HATED it at first, but they needed to learn how this all works and seem to appreciate it now.
It’s the “in” term for good reason. Practicing self-care means a variety of things, including eating well, exercising, and:
Setting personal boundaries. It’s a skill [and] takes most people years to figure it out.
Never underestimating the importance of sleep to your good health—and good grades. Make time for it, even if you need a bag full of earplugs to arrange some.
Going one step further with self-care, college students should also know how to speak up for themselves and be clear communicators. Here’s what our members suggest they do:
Take advantage of the services your school offers (such as mental health, writing, and math centers). Asking for help is a sign of bravery, not weakness.
Learn how to navigate a situation, whether on the phone or through email, ask the appropriate questions to elicit information the first time, and ask key follow-up questions to get what you need.
A skill my daughter has been using for years and years is the willingness and ability to ask adults for assistance, clarity, etc. She is unafraid to email a teacher, ask for directions, or talk to someone. She is not an extrovert by nature. She is, however, confident in herself and the belief that others will help her.
Keep Up Daily Tasks
When your student is living on their own—whether they’re in a dorm room or an off-campus apartment—they’ve got routines to create and keep up with (including the often overlooked cleaning 😊). Sometimes, finding the time is the hardest part.
Here are some basic tasks for them to focus on:
Cook and understand that there’s no one coming behind you to clean up.
Wake up on [your] own using an alarm.
Make a [grocery] list and stick to it.
Do laundry, operate a commercial washer and dryer, fold clothes, and make a bed.
Learn How to Manage Money
College is expensive. Regardless of how a student pays for school, (whether it’s through financial aid, a federal and/or private student loan, or by working) our PFC101 parents stress that students should learn how to properly manage their expenses—both big and small.
From keeping track of meal plan balances, buying coffee, and eating off campus with friends to loading up on those irresistible t-shirts and hats at the campus store, parents say to remind your student that it all adds up.
According to a 2022 survey from College Ave Student Loans, the top three words undergraduate students associated with their finances included ‘broke,’ ‘expensive,’ and ‘stressful.’ While 51% of those students had a job or personal budget, nearly as many said they had to decline going out with friends, dining out, and other opportunities due to the expense.
When it comes to financial advice, members urge students to earn money and learn about budgeting and finance. If you’re borrowing money, make sure you know what the monthly payment will be before you commit. You can also start making monthly payments while in school, if possible. Here’s more of what our members had to say:
Understand money. For example, my daughter is taking a ‘wealth and finance’ elective her senior year of high school. I hear her learning about budgets, credit (and more) each week.
Consider applying for your first credit card and talk to your parent/guardian about it. Several companies offer cards to college students. Most have very low spending limits (that’s a good thing), and the process can help you learn about budgeting, interest rates, and (when you pay on time) can help you build up a good credit score, which is important to have as you fully enter the adult world.
Summer is a great time to prepare your student for the upcoming school year. From money management, self-care, and maintaining their living space to speaking up for themselves, you’re an important part of helping them learn how to become an independent adult.
Feel like you could use a little help with the transition yourself? There’s support available to you, too. And though it may not seem possible right now, rest assured, by this time next year you’ll be in a position to share what you’ve learned with the next round of parents of soon-to-be college freshmen.
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT
HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE
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