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Preparing your kid for college . . . lessons learned afterwards

May 28, 2021 | Thomas Smith


Sending four sons to college in seven years has given us some joy, and some scars….here is what we learned!

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Preparing your Kid for college…the “not obvious list”. 

For many families, saving for retirement is the number one priority for long term savings.  College funding, however, would certainly be the most common second priority.  So, whether you are planning on sending your child to community college, a 4-year public university, or a private out of state college, preparing your son or daughter for the emotional, and financial aspect of college is a stressful and often over-looked aspect of parenting. 

For those families who send their kids off to college, we see two extremes:  Some parents see college as “hand-off” relationship, meaning they do not have the band-width, or the appetite to fund college for their children.  For these families, kids are expected to secure student loans, work part-time…or even full time, and otherwise take care of the financial commitments on their own.  Other families, do have the extra income to provide the funding for their kids to attend college, and pay for all of the expenses and accoutrements of the college experience. The majority of families sending their kiddos off to college fall somewhere between these two extremes. 

Regardless of where your family falls on the spectrum above, I have put together some insights from sending 4 sons off to college.  Some of these are universal nuggets of wisdom, and some of them are ideas I discovered afterwards.  All of them are useful ideas you can employ to prepare your child for the emotional and financial whirlwind of college.  

  1. Introduce them to the financial system no later than freshman year of high school. Open up a checking account with an attached debit card. lf your child has summer or high school employment, this is a layup as this will happen organically.  However, if your child cannot gain summer employment, consider giving them a bi-monthly stipend for them to pay for their social activities.  For those non-working kids, consider tying this stipend to a series of age- appropriate weekly chores.  This stipend will acclimate them to the flow of income they will receive from you…or their employment and prepare them to live within a budget. 
  2. Beginning no later than Junior Year of high school, begin to give your high schooler a “longer leash”.  If the curfew as a Sophomore was 10:30, move it back to 11:00, then to 11:30 and Midnight, and gradually consider eliminating it altogether.  When they are away at college, there is no curfew.  As parents, we hope that our kids will always make good decisions, but if they do get caught in some poor decisions, we wanted to be close by to assist.  We therefore eliminated our curfew by the second semester of the Senior year. We also began giving them many more freedoms such that by the time they were heading off to college, they were essentially operating under their own schedule (within the constraints of our family rules and expectations of course). 
  3. Teach your high schooler the basics of car maintenance. Show them how to change a flat tire on the car they are presently driving. Have them do it on their own under your supervision. Show them where the windshield wiper fluid reservoir is located.  Have them take the car to get the tires rotated and get the oil changed.  These are valuable important lessons, and also a marker of maturity.  As a backup, we provided our kids a with a “road side assistance” phone number.  There are a number of these programs such as AAA. In addition, many dealerships provide this feature when you buy a new or used car. 
  4. Teach them the basic of household repairs.  At a minimum, provide them with a cordless screwdriver.  This is quite possibly the most efficient and useful tool that every dorm or apartment should not be without. 
  5. Have them do their own laundry at your home beginning no later than the summer between Junior and Senior year of high school.  The benefits of this are obvious. 
  6. Teach your son how to properly tie a tie.  Show him how to properly iron his pants with a crease.   Teach him how to iron a shirt without scorching. Teach him how to shine his shoes. 
  7. Encourage your high school kid to cultivate an adult mentor, other than his/her parents. This could be an adult in their faith community, a coach, a neighbor, a teacher, parent of a friend, or even an employer. It is important that our kids learn how to talk to adults. More importantly, there are some challenges your child will encounter, of which he/she will not want you involved.  It is important that he/she has someone who is trustworthy from whom to seek counsel. 
  8. Beginning no later than ninth grade, encourage your child to seek out volunteer opportunities. If you are charitably inclined, introduce them to your family giving patterns. Let them see how you as parents give and volunteer. This can be accomplished through your faith community, or even through the many non-profit organizations in your city. Begin tracking your child’s volunteer activities, as it is hard to remember the exact hours of the ninth-grade mission trip when you are applying to college. 
  9. Encourage your high schooler to get involved in at least one extra-curricular activity.  There are many obvious benefits to this.  This could be athletics, cheer, drill, clubs, church and faith community group, or student government among others. 
  10. Teach your child how to write a Thank you note.  The timing for this is perfect as your collegiate will need this valuable skill to properly acknowledge the graduation gifts he/she receives upon high school graduation. Highly encourage, or even mandate, that these be written the summer before jetting off to college.  

There you go…not an exhaustive list….but certainly a real world list.  A list with scars, tears, joy, pride, failures,  and success. I hope you found it useful.  If you have any other nuggets to add, feel free to message me, as I would love to write about it!


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