Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Ray FitzGerald. Ray holds bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and education from the University of Florida and St. Leo University. He is a long-time teacher of the gifted in an elementary classroom setting and works with parents, educators and children at www.RaiseALegend.com to help raise a generation of legendary children. We would like to thank him for his submission and credit him as the author of this blog post.
The most common advice I received when my daughter was born was to enjoy every minute of her youth, because it wouldn’t last long. Being naive and new to parenthood, I figured that was one of those things that everyone says but doesn’t really believe.
As I helped my daughter pack her bags two months ago when she moved cross-country to continue her education, I realized just how fast those moments fly by.
As parents, we’re often juggling concerns over our child’s safety and preparedness for adulthood. We try to make sure we do everything right and, when a child stretches his or her wings and leaves the nest, we start to wonder if we taught all of the necessary lessons to ensure a successful life.
In the end, all we can do is trust our children to make the right decisions and use our guidance and advice as a fallback when things get rough. But we can minimize those tough times for our children by taking certain actions before a child is ready for independence.
As a parent of a college student, and long-time educator, I’ve helped hundreds of children prepare for tests, projects, and life’s biggest lessons. My experiences taught me that there are five things that separate prepared students from their unprepared peers. Thankfully, parents can play a key role in making sure their child falls on the right side of that spectrum.
So, without further ado, here are the five ways parents can ensure their child is financially and mentally ready for college.
1. Instill the right mindset. While college is an exciting and fun time in every young adult’s life, it’s also a prime opportunity to make connections, learn new things, and develop a professional’s mindset.
This generation of college students is the first to be born in a technology-driven age where new gadgets and apps are a normal part of life. Social media is a regular form of communication and self-expression—and one of the first places employers look when vetting potential new hires. That means every college student should go back and check their social profiles for potentially embarrassing pictures or posts from their past. Future posts should be made with the thought that employers are watching.
That doesn’t mean your child has to treat every day of college like a shift in an office. Adulthood allows for times of both fun and seriousness, but the stakes, and competition, get higher when you enter college. It’s important your child understands this and prepares for the challenges ahead.
2. Create—and stick to—a budget. If your child held a part-time job through high school, he or she may already be familiar with how to manage a paycheck. But those paychecks might not go as far with the added responsibilities of college life.
Starting early by creating a savings account and learning to juggle bills and other expenses will help your child curb his or her spending while on campus. This can be especially important when there are the temptations of weekend trips or late-night parties that can quickly drain a bank account.
If your child will be taking on his or her first job, it’s important that you teach them about taxes and other deductions. Far too often, a young adult receives their first paycheck and is surprised to see that they overestimated how much they’d earn. The culprit, in most cases, is not properly calculating taxes. That can throw a monkey wrench into weekend plans or, even worse, affect how much time they can devote to studying because they have to work extra hours to make ends meet.
3. Help your child curate a positive support system. Most young adults think they have the world figured out… until tough times hit. There are often two very distinct reactions to these situations; some children will call home to ask a parent for help or advice, and others will be afraid of looking incompetent and try to solve the problem on their own.
It’s most important that the latter have a solid support system of people who they can ask for advice, help, or just to bounce ideas off of. Whether your child is leaving home for college or staying in town, take him or her around campus to meet as many available counselors, aides, and other support staff who can be called upon when needed.
You never know when one of those people will be the bridge that connects your child to safer land.
4. Teach the finer points of financial aid. You’d be surprised how many students go into their freshman year not knowing the difference between a loan and a grant.
While financial aid is a necessity for many students, it’s important to know how much you need—and what the repayment costs will be—before accepting any loans.
By calculating the monthly repayment bill before loans are disbursed, students are more likely to only borrow what they truly need and refrain from digging themselves into a hole that takes decades to get out of.
Students should also know well in advance what forms of student aid their school accepts and, in some cases, requires. Some schools mandate a supplemental financial aid form called the CSS Profile, which requires earlier submission than the traditional FAFSA.
Understanding the ins and outs of financial aid before your child arrives on campus ensures a smooth transition to college life and removes one more obstacle from your child’s path.
5. Foster an attitude of gratitude. Although your child worked hard to get to this point, he or she could not have done it without the help of others. While this last step isn’t mandatory, I’ve always found that students who send thank-you notes to the people who helped them along the way create bonds that last longer and ensure the future support of those people.
These can be teachers, guidance counselors, secretaries, loan officers or anyone else that helped to clear the path toward college enrollment. Besides being a kind gesture, you’d be surprised how much it affects the “unsung heroes” that help so many, often without being noticed for their efforts.
Bonus: While you’re busy helping your child prepare for his or her next stage in life, don’t forget about your own needs. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Not every person attends college. The fact that your child is among the select few shows that your time and hard work was well worth the effort.
If your child is leaving for college, and you have no other children at home, this may be a good time to prepare for the potential of Empty Nest Syndrome symptoms. You don’t often experience these symptoms until your child is gone, so it’s better to prepare early for the possibility.
Empty Nest Syndrome isn’t clinically diagnosable, but it occurs often when the final child moves away and leaves the parents with an empty home. This can cause feelings of inadequacy or lack of importance. To combat these symptoms, it’s key that parents remember that an empty home isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
This is your time to do all of the things that you always wanted to do, but couldn’t because of parental obligations. Just like how your child is learning new things, now is your time to spread your wings and expand your horizons.
Just like parenthood, you should enjoy every moment of it. It doesn’t last forever.