High school graduation is behind us, thank you notes are written, graduation parties are over, and summer jobs are now confirmed…so what’s next? The summer before your student leaves for college is an important transition time for him/her, there will be expectations of time with you and an unspoken assumption that you understand the importance of them seeing high school friends. The conflicting emotions of excitement, loss, and apprehension will be ever present, and once again your steadfastness will be so important. So, here are some considerations for you to work with as you prepare for the “send-off” to college.
The Summer Before
Be prepared to see less of your student this summer.
The closer it gets to departure time, the less you can expect to see of your student. S/he will likely be spending every waking hour with friends; allow them this special time together. If there is an important need to visit family [aging grandparents, aunts/uncles] plan this with your student, modeling the beginning of adult-adult decision-making and communication. You want to send them to college feeling respected, trusted and supported and the summer is a great time to lay this foundation.
Make a financial plan and discuss expectations with your student.
Develop a tentative budget and be clear about who will pay for what. For example, some parents pay for books and supplies, while their son/daughter is responsible for incidental expenses such as snacks, movies, and CDs. Other students are responsible for earning a percentage of their tuition. Teach your son/daughter about responsible use of credit and debit cards. Note: Credit card debt and student loans are the primary source of indebtedness that students will graduate college with. In California the average debt after college is $19,000. projectonstudentdebt.org
Discuss academic goals and expectation ahead of time.
Remember, many freshmen do not do as well academically their first semester as they did in high school, and many change their minds about their proposed course of study 2-3 times during their college career. Ask them what they hope to accomplish academically during their first year; it is important for them to take ownership of their education. If you find yourself [or other family members] talking about “being a lawyer like your mom” step back and remember this is a time for them to explore their own interests and passions. Communicate your expectations and standards as well as offering encouragement in their ability to meet those standards.
Share important information/processes with your student.
Most colleges and universities have personal services that are paid for through their fees [e.g., health, counseling]. For the most part these are auxiliary services, so provide your son/daughter with information on health insurance coverage, even locating facilities near their school that will be important resources. As a family you also want to talk about emergency procedures. How do we connect with each other in the event of an emergency? What are the emergency contact numbers? Remember your son/daughter will be living away from home, so we want to empower them with information that allows them to think wisely and act with diligence.
Communication: Keeping in touch
Talk to your student about how you’ll keep in touch.
Do you want a planned time to talk or do you want to be more spontaneous? A cell phone can be a wonderful way to keep in touch, or it can be, as one student described, an “electronic leash.” Agreeing on set “touch-base” times is a good strategy [e.g., Sundays @ 7:00 p.m.] recognizing that there may be some instances when this may need to get postponed or delayed a week. E-mail, instant messaging, and texting are also good ways to keep in touch — just don’t count on a reply to every message.
Other ways to stay in touch are with the quintessential “care package;” sending surprise boxes with favorite treats, toiletries, and knickknacks goes a long way to staying connected and reminding your student of the strong support base they have in you.
Be a coach rather than trying to solve your student’s problems yourself.
You’re likely to hear more than your share of problems. College students usually call their parents for reassurance when things aren’t going well, and call their friends with the latest exciting news. When you get those late night phone calls, and you will, you can encourage your student to use the appropriate campus resources — go to the health service or counseling center, talk to an advisor, dean, or tutor. Read resource information sent to you by the college so you can be an informed coach for your student; plan on going to parent orientation if your college sponsors one, these are great sources of information and help you feel more a part of this experience. This is a significant shift in your role as a parent and one that can strengthen the trust you’ve already developed.
Be an anchor.
Keep your student informed about changes at home. College students want their parents to accept the changes they are making, but want everything at home to stay the same. So it’s important to keep them informed about changes at home, whether it’s moving a younger sibling into their room, or, on a more serious note, about illness in the family or the death of a pet. It is a good rule of thumb to NOT make any changes to your student’s territory at home until after the first semester. Returning to the nest after their first set of final exams is an important time for them. They need this from you in order to feel secure and maintain a sense of trust.
On the day that you drop your son/daughter at college, you will undoubtedly have many emotions. What I ask you to think about for yourself is how you will feel in 4-5 years when they are walking across a graduation stage in their cap and gown having navigated this time in their life in a manner that reiterates the good work you’ve done and will do as their parents. Congratulations on a job well done!