Eight Decisions You and Your College Student Should Make Before College Begins
The summer before your student heads to college is a busy time. There may be an orientation for your student, and for you. There are things to buy for the new dorm room. Your student may be contacting her roommate. There are doctor and dentist appointments to make, forms to complete, financing to finalize. Your student may or may not be busy packing, and you may be busy worrying about why she’s not packing yet. And through it all, your student is busy trying to say goodbye to friends, and you are trying to come to terms with the fact that she’ll be gone.
Amid all of the flurry of preparations for leaving, there are some important decisions that you and your college student should make to anticipate potential issues later on. If you spend some time this summer agreeing on these points, you won’t be taken by surprise when inevitable situations arise later. You’ll know that you and your student are “on the same page”, and you may prevent difficulties later. Here are eight things to discuss with your student before she leaves.
- How often do you expect your student to come home during the first semester? Your reaction may be to blurt out “As often as possible because I’ll miss him!” It is true that you’ll miss him, and you’d like to see him, but being on campus on the weekends will help your student make social connections and feel more connected and engaged in campus life. If your student comes home every weekend, he’ll potentially have more difficulty making close friends and participating in activities on campus. Talk to your student about the benefits of staying on campus as much as possible during the first semester. Agree together, before he leaves, on when his first visit home might be. The important thing is to discuss whether you have the same expectations. If you expect him to stay on campus, but he expects to come home every weekend, come to some agreement now, before he leaves.
- What are the house rules/expectations going to be when your student does come home? While she is away at college, your student will be on her own. She won’t have a curfew and she won’t have household chores or responsibilities. She’ll stay up late, eat when and when she wants, and she’ll be in charge of her lifestyle. Talk to your student about a plan for when she comes home – whether that is for a weekend or for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Agree together on a reasonable curfew, if there is one at all. Agree on whether you expect her to help out at home, eat meals with the family, etc. It’s not fair to expect her to step immediately back to her high school lifestyle, but you don’t need to abdicate all responsibility. Talk about potential difficulties and expectations now, before she leaves, so that you’ll all be ready for that first visit home.
- How often, and how, do you expect to communicate? Communication with your college student has come a long way since the days of the single phone booth at the end of the dorm hall. You can communicate instantly and often with your student through cell phones, text messages, Skype, Facebook, and other forms of social media. Talk to your student about how often you hope to talk. Ask how often he expects to call. If you’re hoping to talk several times a day and he is envisioning once a week, you have some negotiating to do. Of course, the first few days at school may be different, but then you’ll want to settle into a routine. There is no right answer for how much communication is right (although beginning to let go may be an important goal), but it is important that you discuss it and agree on something that you both feel is reasonable.
- Will your student have a car on campus? Many colleges do not allow, or at least discourage, first-year students from having a car on campus. This may be for safety reasons, to encourage your student to stay on campus, or because of parking limitations. However, if your student is allowed to have a car, and will be bringing a car to campus, have a discussion about any expectations for using the car. Who will be paying for insurance and gas? Are there any limitations to using the car? Will it be OK for your student to allow others to borrow and drive the car? Is your student prepared to use it responsibly, and be asked to drive other students where they need to go? Once again, agreeing to expectations before situations arise will prevent possible problems later.
- Will your student have a credit card? Who will be responsible for paying it? Many college students acquire massive debt, not only through their college loans, but through their use of credit cards. If your student is going to have a credit card, make sure that she knows that she will be responsible for paying for it. Make sure that she understands the principle of interest and how quickly costs can increase. Discuss credit history and the difficulties of not paying. Agree together on whether you will help out if she can’t pay the balance. Don’t wait until a problem occurs.
- What will your student do with Work Study earnings? One piece of many students’ financial aid package is Federal Work Study. This means that your student will have the opportunity to have a job on campus and earn money. Although this Work Study money is considered part of financial aid, it is paid directly to the student as he earns it. You and your student need to agree on whether this is considered spending money, whether this money is to be used for textbooks and supplies, or whether you expect him to use this toward tuition.
- How will personal finances be handled? Is your student responsible for her own spending money or will you be giving her money for personal spending? If you expect your student to be responsible for all of her expenses, make sure that she understands that. What will you do if she runs out? Will you give her funds? Loan her money? If you are planning to give her spending money, agree on whether you will give it to her each week, each month, or in one lump sum at the beginning of the semester – with the expectation that she will create a budget and spend it carefully. What will you do if she runs out? As with so many issues, there is no right or wrong answer, but it is essential that you and your student agree on expectations and have a plan.
- Do you expect to see grades? Do you expect your student to earn certain grades? Remember that FERPA regulations mean that all financial and academic information about your student’s college experience will go directly to your student. Discuss early whether you expect your student to share his grades with you. Discuss whether you expect certain grades or a certain GPA and what you will do if he doesn’t meet those expectations. Although you hope that your student will not have difficulty or receive an academic warning or academic probation, do you have a plan if that should happen? Talking about these issues now may prevent hard feelings and/or concerns about having important conversations later.
It is impossible to anticipate all of the potential situations that might arise when your student heads to college. There may be additional issues that are important to you and that you need to discuss with your student before she heads to college. Consider those things which are especially important, or concerning, to you and have a conversation with your student about them. Ask your student if she has any issues she thinks might come up later. The more conversation you have now, the more comfortable you will both be as you make this transition. There will still be bumps in the road, but you may be able to minimize them – and you will have opened many important lines of communication.