There are few events bigger in a kid’s life than starting college. For most kids, it’s the first time they get to experience real independence from their parents. How do you prepare your kids for all the academic and social challenges of college?
Here’s what the experts say:
Visit A College
The first thing you should do as you’re getting your high-schoolers ready for college, Gen and Kelly Tanabe, the authors of more than a dozen books on college planning, say is simply to visit one: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a future prospective college or just the one nearest to your home. Walking on a campus, absorbing the environment and maybe even sampling the dining hall food will give your child the reference points needed to make the critical decisions regarding where to apply when he or she is a senior.” So, visiting a college with your high-schooler will show them what to expect and, hopefully, also make them excited about it.
Develop Their Independence
It’s great if your kids are excited about going to college. However, to succeed in college – academically as well as socially – they also need to be independent. Amy Baldwin, a college-readiness expert and co-author of The College Experience, suggests that parents let their high-schoolers take care of such important tasks as making their own doctor’s appointments: “help them develop more confidence by talking through what they need to say and questions they need to ask.”
More generally, Sarah Eustis of Inside Track, a student success coaching company, says that you can make your kids more independent by helping them arrive at their own solutions to problems: “ask your child open-ended questions to help her figure out how to move forward and approach decisions as an independent adult. When an issue comes up, support your child in creating – and following through on – her own plans rather than solving the problem yourself.”
Amy Morin, senior expert for Understood, a nonprofit that supports people with thinking and learning differences, agrees that it’s important for budding college students to solve problems on their own: “College students who don’t know what to do when they encounter problems, like struggling with a tough class or not getting along with their roommate, will either avoid the problem altogether or make a snap decision that could be harmful.”
Identify Support Services
College can be tough for even the most independent of kids. Encourage them to familiarize themselves with all the different support services available, including academic advisors, financial aid officers, health and student services, and tutoring and writing services. By doing that, Ms. Eustis says, they become the CEOs of their own college experience: “Successful students proactively address what they need to do to support their college life.” The goal, she says, should be “anticipating potential challenges and putting contingency plans in place.” If they do this before they arrive on campus, they can focus on academics, getting to know the campus, and making new friends.
Manage The Stress
Even with lots of support, college can be stressful because of the high academic expectations, the challenges of being away from home for the first time, and the pressure to make new friends. You can prepare your kids for these and other challenges, Dr. Baldwin says, by talking to them about what stresses them out and how to deal with it; she suggests exercise and meditation. Ms. Morin agrees, recommending stress management techniques like calling a friend, writing in a journal, or engaging in a hobby. “The more your student understands now about causes for their stress and how they can best manage their responses,” Dr. Baldwin says, “the better prepared they’ll be for college.”
Budget Their Expenses
Finally, kids need to know how to budget their expenses. Even with a meal plan, money for books and supplies, and extra spending money, they’ll come running to you for more if they don’t know how to properly budget their money. Dr. Gail Gross, a child psychologist, suggests that parents talk to their kids about budgeting, including sharing their own budgeting tips and stories about mistakes they’ve made. There are also some really good, free budget apps. One of the very best is Mint: Personal Finance & Money. Available on both the Apple Appstore and on Google Play, this popular budget app lets them track their expenses, see the balances on their checking and savings accounts, and create realistic budgets. They can also use the app to pay and track bills and to receive reminders.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.