Five Conversations Parents and College Students Should Have Before the First Year of College

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The summer before your student heads of to college is an exciting, busy, and stressful time for everyone.  There’s lots to do to prepare – forms to complete, finances to consider, orientations to attend, shopping to do.  Your student may be working and is also busy trying to spend as much time with his friends – and saying goodbye.  Communication with your college student may have its wonderful moments, and may also be strained.  You feel it is your last chance to impart your wisdom, and he is increasingly anxious to be independent.

The process of heading off to college – both for your student and for you – is filled with expectations.  One roadblock, however, may be that your expectations and your student’s expectations may not be the same.  Using the summer months for some frank and open talk about expectations will clear the air – and possibly avoid difficult situations later when you realize that you, or she, made some assumptions.  Good communication now will also lay the foundation for continued quality communication once your student heads off. 

Here are five questions or conversations you might consider having before your student leaves for school.  Don’t try to cover them all at once, but try to touch on some of these topics as you both prepare.  Not only will you learn some things about your student, but she may learn some things about you as well.

 

What are your student’s reasons for going to college?

This may sound like a strange question.  You and your student have spent the last several years working at getting into college.  You’ve made the college visits, your student has taken SAT’s or ACT’s, he’s planned his high school schedule carefully, you’ve filled out stacks of financial forms, he’s filled out applications and written essays, he’s waited for those acceptances and wrestled with decisions and he’s finally headed off.  But in spite of all of the work you’ve both done to get him here, have you had a conversation with him about why he wants to go to college?  Does he have a goal?  Is he focused on a major or a job?  Is he looking for a social outlet?  Is he going primarily for athletics?  Is he going to college because it’s the logical next step, but he’s not sure how he will like it?  As you talk about this question with your student, you may learn a tremendous amount about him – and he may learn some things about himself.

How much contact do you expect to have with your student?

 In this age of ready internet and ubiquitous cell phones, we can be in touch with almost anyone in the world instantly – and constantly. Talk to your student about both of your expectations about communication.  Do you expect to talk to her daily?  Several times a day?  Once a week?  Does she have the same expectation? Will you call her or do you expect her to call you?  Will you both use e-mail to communicate?  Will you have access to her Facebook page?  Agreeing now to an understanding about communication may avoid disappointment later.  If you expect to talk to her daily and she doesn’t call, hurt or angry feelings may follow, but if you’ve both agreed on once a week (except for especially exciting or difficult times), then you’ll both be comfortable. 

Do you expect to send your student money or will he be responsible for his own expenses?

Some parents send their student spending money on a regular basis.  Other parents expect their student to be responsible for his own expenses.  There is no right or wrong answer, but it’s going to be important that you and your college student be on the same page.  Many of us are uncomfortable talking about money.  But having a conversation about money before your student heads off will prevent difficult situations later.  If you are sending money, will it be once a semester, once a month, once a week?  What does your student prefer?  If your student is responsible for his own expenses, will you step in if he runs out?  Who will be paying for textbooks?  Travel costs?  The more that you can clear up now, the better.

Will your student have a credit card while in college?

Most college students have a credit card – or multiple credit cards.  Credit card companies send numerous offers to college students because they know hooking them early may mean a customer for life.  Many students graduate from college with significant credit card debt.  At the same time, responsible use of a credit card is an excellent way to begin to establish a credit history, and a credit card may be useful or necessary for emergencies or some important purchases.  Have a discussion with your student about your expectations about her use of a credit card.  Will you co-sign if necessary?  If she can’t pay a bill, will you step in?  Are there limits on what you think she should purchase?  Many college students say they wish their parents had given them more financial advice before they started school.

Do you have expectations about your student leaving campus overnight?

Your student may or may not be planning to come home to visit during the semester.  Other than visits home, do you have any expectations about your student making overnight trips away from campus?  If your student visits a friend at another campus, or goes home with a roommate, or takes a trip with new college friends, do you expect to know about it?  Are there any restrictions?  What does your student think?  What is your comfort level?  You certainly don’t need to know, and you won’t know,  everything that your student is doing, but perhaps you’d like to be informed – for safety – if she is going to be off campus overnight.  Or perhaps you don’t feel that you need to know.  Discussing your expectations with your student in a general way, before the situation arises, will help you both feel more comfortable. 

Hopefully, you will find that some of these questions will lead to wonderful conversations with your student.  You’ll learn about her, she’ll learn about you, and you both will have opened the door to open communication throughout the first year of school – and beyond.

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