This is the time of year many loving parents look forward to and dread at the same time. Just a few months ago they sent their loving, obedient child off to college. Now that child is returning home for the first time, and nobody knows what to expect. College might be a success or failure in their almost-adult's mind. Their child might be thrilled about having a new-found independence, and could chafe at returning to mom and dad's house rules.
There could be grade or money problems as students learn to wrestle with financial and school responsibilities without their parents' protective watch. Without reverting to the old "Do as I say rules," there are still a few things you can teach your college freshman over the holidays. Be sure to let your child have some fun with old friends and relax a little, but definitely find a quiet time to sit down and have a conversation. Gently ask questions to determine your student's state of mind. Ask about friends, classes, and activities to see if your child is fitting in and starting to blossom. If you find any problem areas, you can ask old high school teachers and counselors for help or find out what resources the college offers.
You also need to cover money issues. Remind your child that you are attacking the financial aspects of college together and need to communicate about how that is working. Be sure to discuss:
• Spending and Credit: Learn about how your child is spending money. Has he or she signed up for any credit cards you don't know about? Make sure there is an understanding of how credit works. Pulling out a credit card today to pay for a slice of pizza can end up costing a lot more down the road when interest charges start piling up.
• Student Loan Money: Did your child take out a student loan to cover some expenses? Find out how that money is being spent. You want your child to come out of college with as little student loan debt as possible. This money should not be used to finance living expenses, but to make up for any shortfall in financial aid.
• Satisfactory Progress: Most colleges reevaluate financial aid on a regular basis. They want to see that the student is making satisfactory progress and earning acceptable grades. Make sure your child knows what needs to be accomplished to graduate in four years.
• Scholarships: Have your child search for new scholarship opportunities over the holidays. There are many scholarships that are open only to students who are already enrolled in college.
• Financial Aid: You and your child will need to complete the FAFSA application again next year. Make sure your child knows what information will be needed so this can go smoothly.
• Jobs: If your child has a long winter break, you might want to suggest that he or she pick up a temporary job to earn some extra money. Every dollar earned is one less dollar that needs to be borrowed.
Become a Financial Advisor To Your College Student
There is a transition going on now as you are starting to dial back a bit on your parental role, and your child is beginning to become an independent adult. If you have done your job well, you have given your child a solid foundation for life's experiences. Money, credit, debt and financial aid are all important lessons you need to impart now so that your child doesn't face a lifetime of debt and financial difficulties.