Parents’ Guide to Sending Kids Off to College

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It seems as if it was just yesterday when your child was running around in diapers and learning to walk. Now your child has walked across the stage and received a high school diploma and its time for the college send off.  While students might be counting down the days until they move on campus, parents might be wondering how to deal.

For the record, its not just parents that have difficulty processing the drastic change. Dr. Matthew Greene, educational director at Howard Greene and Associates, says that a child going off to college is an adjustment for the whole family dynamic, even if its not the last child to leave the nest.

A lot of families havent thought about this part of the process until high school graduation comes around--all of the sudden, they realize that theres a limited amount of time left as the family unit, says Greene. I think theres a great deal of fear and understanding that things wont be the same anymore within the family.

Whether students are moving far away or staying close to home to attend college, there are steps parents can take to make the transition easier for all parties involved.

Staying in Contact&and Not Just for Money Requests

Living away from home for the first time can alter how students keep in touch with their families. Thankfully, smartphones, texting, and free video-conference programs like Skype make staying in contact more accessible than it used to be (no more using the payphone down the hall).

Both parents and kids should compromise on an appropriate level of communication, say the experts. Parents have to be realistic with how often students check in and encourage their kids to solve problems on their own.

David Altshuler, member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling(NACAC), says it is important for parents to be non-judgmental and openly listen to their kids problems, but they cant fight their battles.

Try to help children distinguish that which is a problem a kid can solve on their own, and a problem that requires intervention from the outside, he advises.

Some colleges and universities restrict what information parents can access, even though they are often the ones footing part of the bill.

For parents wanting to stay in the know, Greene suggests looking into whether students can sign a waiver, which allows the school to share midterm grade reports and details about mental health counseling with parents.

Colleges are getting better at communicating with parents--some of them do have parent relations offices, special parts of the Web site, and special orientation days for parents as part of the student orientation, says Greene. Its OK for parents to ask questions here and try to get a sense of whats reasonable.

Setting Up Smart Financial Habits

College is more than a formal education--its also a time for kids to become financially literate and take responsibility for their finances.

Before the big send off, experts suggest parents sit down with their kids and sort through budgeting, how to use responsibly use credit and debit cards and any other financial situations that might come up at college.

Families should not assume that students know everything, they should really sit down together and make some time during the summer to have discussions about financial planning and expectations, budgets,  and rules, says Greene. There are a lot of things that have been under the family umbrella for a long time and will now become an independent responsibility of the student.

Its also important for parents to set financial boundaries.

I think its very important to have clear expectations from the get-go, says Kelly Price vice president client relationship manager at Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc. How much they can expect to take out for loans for tuition, or what their spending costs are--families have different constraints. They need to be clear.

Safety Issues

Whether a child is headed off to a big city campus or a small college town, parents should reinforce the notion of being smart and safe. If parents havent already talked about alcohol and drug use up to this point, its important to discuss different dangers and consequences of substance abuse.

It depends on the student, but theres no reason to assume they just know this stuff and some kids really dont, says Greene. There are temptations or secondary effects from roommates, which is just as much as an issue.

Price points out that particularly for young women, it is important to recognize that although campus and the surrounding areas may seem completely safe, students shouldnt travel alone and always make sure to have a buddy when walking home at night.

Make sure you are being wise about your safety, even about locking your door--losing that laptop is an expensive loss, so be conscious of that, says Price. Campuses tend to feel familiar and warm after a while and people dont have their guards up.

Get Them Ready to Fly the Coop 

Parents may be dreading saying goodbye to their high school student, but this summer will go by quickly, so take the time to spend quality time together.

Its the uncertainty and the concern of sending your kids out into a very different world from the one that you left and I think theres cause for concern, says Altshuler. A few generations ago, [college] was a manageable bunch of information, where as today, I think its faster paced.

Students may have more difficulty admitting that they are apprehensive about being away from their families, so parents should plan family-friendly activities to share before they go off on their own.

Making time to not only talk about the academic transition and business transition is really important in these last few months, but also family and doing some things together and spending time doing special things, says Greene.

Although it can be hard for parents to acknowledge their children are growing up, the experts say they need love and support, and then back off and let them figure it out.

[Parents] have to be there as cheerleaders and coaches, but they also have to let go, says Greene. Ultimately, its the students college experience and they have to own it and if they set it up correctly, theyll find that they have a good chance at success from the beginning.