transition to college

Final Preparations for Sending Your Child to College

The past year has been chock full of college visits, college applications, waiting for admissions decisions, and finally, picking the college that my son would attend. His high school graduation and all the related celebrations are behind us now, and summer is coming to a close. All of a sudden, reality sets in, as does the panic of preparing for this next major milestone in our lives—sending him off to college. I wanted to share some practical points to think about as you prepare your child for their next step.

Before arriving on campus, there are a number of important tasks to turn your attention to. Aside from the obvious ones of reading and responding to any correspondence from the college, accepting your financial aid offer, taking care of any loan paperwork, confirming the student’s housing, and settling the first college bill, there are other practical considerations to address. Throughout the summer, I taught my son a few of life’s basic skills in hopes of preparing him for the realities of being on his own for the very first time. We also took care of some administrative details with the college and we established some additional guidelines for living. We hope this preparation will allow us to avoid the angst of late-night calls from afar, since we did our due diligence in advance.

Here are the highlights from my planning list below:

  • Set up a bank account with a debit card, but don’t stop there! If you haven’t already, teach your child the basics of banking—how to use an ATM, write a check, make an online payment, deposit money, and, very importantly, how to keep track of transactions and the balance of their account. Personal finance skills will go a long way in supporting your child’s transition to college. Make sure to have them practice managing their money while still at home so they can use you as a resource.
  • Determine your child’s spending budget and make sure you are in agreement. Setting expectations up front with your child is imperative to ensuring that their funds last through the entire year. One conversation that I had with my son focused on the fact that he has an unlimited dining plan at his college. The expectation is that he will fully utilize that plan, instead of eating out off campus.
  • Determine how to communicate once they are on campus. I know this may seem simplistic, but put a plan in place for maintaining your soon-to-be long distant relationship. Discuss whether using Facebook Live, or Skype, or some other means of communication is best, and also agree on when you’ll be touching base. I also took the opportunity to remind my son about the joys of social media, but also about the limitations—specifically, what not to post on social media.
  • Determine required books and order them in advance. My son’s college has an online ordering system; he ordered his books and they’ll be waiting for him when he arrives on campus. Be sure to shop around, however, and take advantage of used books and online discount book sellers, as the college bookstore may not be the least expensive option. Also, be sure to check for any particular computer requirements set by the college.
  • Determine if you need the health insurance coverage that the college will automatically bill you for. If your child is covered under your employer-sponsored health plan, determine the extent of your coverage. For example, if your child needs treatment at a hospital or clinic near their college, will it be considered in-network? If you don’t need the additional insurance from the college, then complete the insurance waiver form from the college to have the fee taken off the bill.
  • Set up a Power of Attorney for medical emergencies—those “what if” situations (ski accident, sports injury, or sickness). I want to be able to have discussions with medical personnel if my son is taken ill and unable to speak for himself. In addition, college students need to submit the results of a recent physical exam and their vaccination history to the college health services office before they can move on campus, so be sure your child has a physical before college starts.
  • Have your child set up a parent proxy so you will be able to view their student account (college bill), as well as view school records, such as grade reports. Many parents don’t realize that the bills and grade reports are sent directly to the student, often to their student account portal, which typically requires the student to log in and retrieve their billing statement or grades. A proxy system allows the parent to also log in and retrieve the information. This conversation also provided the opportunity for my son and me to discuss my expectations for grades. Whether the student has a merit scholarship or will be receiving financial aid, it is important that the student has a full understanding of any GPA requirements to keep their funding prior to heading to campus.
  • Have your child ccoordinate with their roommate(s) as to who is bringing what to college. Many items, such as microwaves, irons, blow dryers, and refrigerators, can be shared. From a space and cost perspective, advance coordination will help support a smooth move-in day.
  • Teach them to do laundry! For better or worse, I have always done my son’s laundry. That luxury (for him) will come to a crashing halt very soon, however, so I spent some time with him teaching him the basic principles of laundry—how to separate, water temperature, best detergents, and—most importantly—what not to put in the dryer. Seems like basic stuff, but to a kid who had never done it, he had a lot of questions.
  • Teach them to cook! Most freshmen will have some sort of meal plan if living on campus. However, knowing how to cook at least a few meals can come in handy, especially if the dorm has a communal kitchen. Not only is it fun to occasionally cook a meal and share it with friends, but at some point your child may end up living off campus, so should be able to get around a kitchen. I wanted my son to be able to make a decent stir fry, a flavorful pasta dish, a fruit smoothie, and a mean plate of nachos. Making a point of teaching him how to cook also gave us some treasured time together which I will soon be missing.

There’s no surefire way to fully prepare for your child heading off to college—mistakes, big and small, will be made and lessons learned—but there are practical skills you can share and administrative items you can handle. I hope that some of these tips will help you and your child navigate this major transition in your lives. Oh one last tip: book your travel and hotel for Parent’s Weekend—it will be here before we know it!

College-Visit-CTA

Written by Jan Combs
Jan Combs is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, Jan was Director of Financial Aid at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Boston University.