Preparing for College
College-bound kids still need your advice, support
New beginnings can be thrilling and horrifying. The heart-racing excitement parents and college-bound kids feel just before the big send-off is often over-shadowed by an uncontrollable dread of the unknown. While future students dream of all the possibilities that await—the parties and the freedom from Mom’s incessant nagging—parents stress about the impending inability to protect their children and take care of them. Here are a few steps you can take to get your young-adult ready for independence.
Upon being accepted to a university, your child will be flooded with mail from credit card companies. I can remember signing up for my first credit card, an MTV card with a 13 percent monthly interest rate — don’t judge me, I didn’t know any better. The first month I bought anything that I wanted — I needed it for my new life. While it was hard for me to hand over $60 for a new sweater, handing over this tiny, magical, plastic card didn’t hurt one bit. Then the bill came and my throat closed up, my skin became red and blotchy and the room started to spin.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is the perfect time for students to begin building credit and learning about financial responsibility. There is nothing worse than graduating from college and trying to buy a car or rent an apartment and being denied because you have no credit history, but students need to remember that just because they don’t have to pay right away doesn’t mean they should spend money frivolously. Agree upon a card with your student and outline the rules for spending, such as monthly limits and appropriate purchases to put on the card. Groceries, for example, are acceptable but weekly shopping sprees are not.
Hopefully you have been teaching your child about nutrition since day one and those values are deeply ingrained. The freshman 15, which refers to the approximate amount of pounds new undergrads gain, won’t be a problem for your child, right? I’m sure if offered a banana or a stack of Oreo’s, they’d pick the banana? Wrong. College is a different environment. Late night study sessions, 100-page reading assignments and the pressure to be social will indefinitely curb your child’s ability to make healthy choices. At 2 a.m. after the dining hall is closed — and yes, you can expect them to be studying until 2 a.m. — the vending machine may be the only viable option, but it doesn’t have to be. In the months before they leave the nest, take them grocery shopping with you and have them pick out healthy snacks. When they get settled in their dorm room make sure they have a mini-fridge to store fresh fruits and veggies to snack on rather than making late-night trips to grab a Snickers.
Bottom line, you are not going to be there to make meals and dorm rooms, equipped with nothing more than microwaves, are not conducive to healthy eating habits. Have your young adult cook meals for the family in his final months at home. This will force him to learn how to prepare healthy food and encourage independence. Take it a step further and have him begin an exercise routine before he leaves. Studies have shown that when students get stressed the first thing they cut from their to-do lists is exercise. This is extremely detrimental to their health, not to mention counter-productive since regular-exercise can help combat stress.
Certainly no parent wants to see their child struggle, and college is a hard enough time as it is, but there is nothing wrong with young adults working and assuming some form of financial responsibility. College is expensive, and while I am certainly not suggesting you force your son or daughter to pay tuition, it is a reality for some.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think it is important for students to hold a part-time job while they attend school. After spending an afternoon filing papers my freshman year, I calculated that I had made $28. The fact that four hours of my time was only worth that much was quite sobering. In fact, I began to think about stuff in terms of how many hours of work it would take me to buy it. When I realized that an iced-coffee at Starbuck’s was almost a whole hour of labor, I quickly began boycotting Grande White Chocolate mocha’s — coincidently this helped me keep off the dreaded freshman 15.
To take it a step further, put your child in charge of one expense, something simple that makes her assume responsibility and requires monthly planning. My mother began by forcing me to pay my monthly cell phone bill. As an addition to her plan, my service cost $40 per month or what I equated to eight hours of labor. It was not a big deal, but it was something I always had to account for. If it was the last week of the month and I was invited out to eat or on a shopping trip, I would decline. I had to pay my cell phone bill.
College is much more than a stepping-stone on the path to a career; it is essentially a training session for the real world. A taste of responsibility and a test of maturity that will define the people your children will become. Look to it as an opportunity to help make them independent and stable adults before it’s time for them to fly completely solo.