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 their 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 they’re 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 they’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 situations later on. If you spend some time this summer agreeing on these points, you won’t be taken by surprise when inevitable issues 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 they leave.
- How often do you expect your student to come home during the first semester? Your reaction may be to say “As often as possible!” It is true that you’ll miss your student, and you’d like to see them, 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, they’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 they leave, on when the first visit home might be. The important thing is to discuss whether you have the same expectations. If you expect your student to stay on campus, but they expect to come home every weekend, come to some agreement now, before they leave.
- What are the house rules/expectations going to be when your student does come home? While your student is away at college, they will be on their own. Your student won’t have a curfew and won’t have household chores or responsibilities. Yes, your student will stay up late, eat when and what they want, and will be in charge of their lifestyle. Talk to your student about a plan for when coming 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 your student to help out at home, eat meals with the family, etc. It’s not fair to expect them to step immediately back to high school lifestyle, but you don’t need to abdicate all responsibility. Talk about potential difficulties and expectations now, before your student 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 through cell phones, text messages, Skype, Facetime, Facebook, and other forms of social media. Talk to your student about how often you hope to talk. Ask how often they expect to call. If you’re hoping to talk several times a day and your student 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 they know who will be responsible for paying for it. Make sure that they understand the principle of compounding 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 your student 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 they earn 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 this to be used toward tuition.
- How will personal finances be handled? Is your student responsible for their own spending money or will you be giving your student money for personal spending? If you expect your student to be responsible for all expenses, make sure that they understand that. What will you do if they money runs out? Will you give your student funds? Loan money? If you are planning to give your student spending money, agree on whether you will give it each week, each month, or in one lump sum at the beginning of the semester – with the expectation that your studentbwill create a budget and spend it carefully. 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 grades with you. Discuss whether you expect certain grades or a certain GPA and what you will do if grades don’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 they head to college. Consider those things which are especially important, or concerning, to you and have a conversation about them. Ask your student if there are any issues they think 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.