If you’re like many parents, you may see college as a “finish line” in terms of raising your child. You’ve worked hard to get them through twelve years of school, sports games, music recitals, and adolescence. Now it’s time for your teens to leave the nest and embrace the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood.
When you think about your teen going off to college, you may feel a mix of excitement, sadness, worry, and relief. It’s a big step for students and parents alike, so preparation is key for both you and your teen. These essential tips can help you understand how to get your teen all set for college, which can help both of you feel excited and ready for this step.
1. Help Out With Applications
One of the best things you can do is help your teen with their college applications. The application process can be complicated and full of paperwork, from scholarship applications to housing forms. Many teens feel overwhelmed at the thought of adding standardized tests, college research, admissions interviews, and essay writing to their existing academic workload.
You may be tempted to help your teen by doing most of the application work yourself, but taking over the process can undermine your teen’s education and independence. Rather than gathering college brochures and standardized test prep materials for your teen, show them where to find those resources. Focus on listening and asking questions as they choose schools instead of presenting your teen with a completed pros and cons list for every available option.
Encourage your teen to pursue their passions and goals even if they don’t match your opinions about the “best” college or major. When you allow your teen to take responsibility for researching and applying for college, you help them move toward adulthood and feel confident in their plans for higher education.
2. Make a Financial Plan
College is expensive. Even the least costly option, in-state tuition at a public university, averages nearly $10,000 per year. No matter how much you plan to contribute to your teen’s college expenses, both of you need to understand how the finances will work. If your teen needs to cover some portion of the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses, they should make a financial plan as early in the process as possible.
Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce the cost of college. Government aid is available for students who meet specific requirements, and there are countless scholarship opportunities as well. Student loans are another option. Take the time to walk your teen through all the financial obligations of college life, and work together to develop a comprehensive plan.
3. Talk About Mental Health
Mental health is one of the most overlooked elements of the college experience, but it can profoundly affect students. College is fundamentally different from high school, and your teen may feel overwhelmed by all the changes in their living situation, academic responsibilities, and new relationships. Mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress, are fairly common among college students.
A vital part of preparing your teen for college is helping them understand the importance of protecting their mental health. Spend some time researching the mental health resources at the colleges under consideration. Work with your teen to make a list of support organizations for serious issues such as suicide, sexual assault, and substance addiction. Having open, honest discussions about mental health can encourage your teen to seek treatment and support for these common challenges.
4. Teach Some Life Skills
Good studying skills are essential for college, and they can help students cope with the academic challenges of advanced coursework. However, life skills are just as crucial for college students but are often overlooked during college preparation.
College requires far more personal motivation and independent work than high school; students are responsible for choosing and attending their courses, scheduling their days, and completing assignments with minimal oversight from teachers. Students also need to manage new living arrangements and take care of personal chores such as food shopping, laundry, bill payment, and cleaning.
You can help prepare your teen for these new responsibilities by starting the transition before college. Teach them how to shop for and cook some simple meals and do their own laundry (including sheets and towels). Make sure they have their own bank account and understand the basics of credit cards and money management.
Depending on where they will live during college, your teen may need to practice navigating public transportation or walking across a sprawling campus. Spending time teaching your teens life skills can help them feel more prepared for college and also start your transition as a parent from hands-on management to hands-off support.
5. Discuss Safety
Safety is one of the issues that gives many parents anxiety when they think about their teen going to college. Peer pressure, substance use, and the threat of harassment or assault are some of the most common issues for college students. Some topics may feel awkward to discuss with your teens, but it’s vital to have these conversations.
Some essential safety issues to discuss include alcohol and drug use and situational awareness. Make sure your teens know how to drive safely and understand all the alternative transportation options to utilize if they drink or use drugs. Discuss difficult topics such as peer pressure and consent. One of the best things you can do is make sure your teens know who they can call for help in any situation: you, a close friend, a support group, or a campus safety organization.
6. Set Your Teen Up for Success in College
Getting ready for college is an equally exciting time for both parents and teens. As you get ready for your teen to leave the nest, you can take some steps to make the transition as easy as possible for them. Fortunately, these steps can also give you a new perspective on parenting and prepare you to support your teen in a healthy way.
Working through applications, teaching life skills, talking about safety, and figuring out finances are effective ways to give your teen the confidence to start their college experience. And knowing that your teen is ready for all aspects of college life can help you feel optimistic and secure in this new phase of parenting.
Author Bio: Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn’t crafting content, she’s usually reading, baking, or playing video games.