Finally, there is financial preparedness. This goes beyond having your child develop a budget for living expenses while away at school. Financial preparedness means both you and your child are on the same page about the financial implications of college choice. It means that you both clearly understand how your family will be paying for college.

Financial preparedness means getting clear in your own mind where you stand on the issue of paying for college. Is it your expectation that you will pay for any college, regardless of the cost? Does your child have the same expectation? Can your child go anywhere she wants, as long as she can get admitted? This is the “college first” approach, in which a student selects the college and the parents figure out how to pay for it. Is this the way you see it? If this is the way your child sees it, are you two in agreement?

If you are not going to be able to pay for college, or if you will not be able to pay the full amount, do you expect your child to borrow money for college? If so, how much debt are you comfortable with your child taking on to pay for college? Is the message you are communicating to your child that no amount of money is too great to borrow to go to certain schools? Is this the message your child is getting from family, friends, counselors, teachers, and college recruiters? If so, does your child understand the long-term implications of the debt she will be taking on?

Because college recruiters often communicate with students in the high school before parents are involved, and because recruiters often frame the decision about where to go to college as a “college first” decision, it is important to examine your beliefs around college choice and communicate them clearly to your child before you both get swept up in the emotion of the college admissions process.

You and your child will experience heavy marketing around choosing a college. As the pool of traditional-age students grows smaller in the next few years, there will be more and more recruiting pressure on your child to consider different schools. You need to be clear about where you stand. Talk with your child about how the decision about college will be made in your family. Will the decision be your child’s alone? Will it be your decision? Will it be a joint decision, based on the overall financial situation of the family as well as your child’s best interest, both academically and financially? This is the “cost first” approach. How much can you afford to pay for college? Given what you can afford, which colleges are the best fit for your child?

The College Fit worksheet will help you organize your thoughts around college fit. Think about your child’s academic, social, and financial preparedness for college. Then identify the corresponding information about the colleges your child is considering. This will give you more data upon which you and your child can base the college decision.


A student who is strong both academically and socially and who has unlimited financial resources might be encouraged to go anywhere. A student who is strong academically but socially and emotionally tentative might be encouraged to look at schools closer to home. A college that is a two- to three-hour drive home for the student to recharge and refocus might be a better fit than a college with a six-hour plane flight between school and home. An academically strong student with good social skills but limited financial resources might look for schools providing the best scholarship offers, keeping in mind the need to limit student loans to cover transportation costs and living expenses. A student with good social skills but weak academic skills who has unlimited financial resources might look for a private college that offers a strong academic support program to help her build her skills to the college level and go on to finish a college degree. An academically weak student who is also socially weak, even with unlimited resources, might be wise to attend college close to home until she has demonstrated she is capable of college-level work.

There is no “one size fits all” way to choose a college and no one “right” college for every student. The transition to college is a major developmental milestone, and not all students are at the same developmental stage when they graduate from high school. College choice should be made accordingly.

Whatever decision you and your child make, you will have to come up with the money to pay for it. Is there a way to identify the true cost of college before a child enrolls?

Parent Tip 26

Grade inflation is the practice of giving higher grades for academic work than the work merits.

There are many pressures on high school teachers to reduce standards. Pressure comes from a variety of sources, including parents, school administrators, politicians, and students themselves. If grade inflation is going on at your high school, it will distort your view of your child’s college readiness.

Seek out more objective data. In assessing college readiness, have your child take a standardized test like the ACT or COMPASS to get a broader picture of his or her skills. Given the amount of money you will be paying for college, make sure you have good data upon which to base your college decision.

Parent Tip 27

Presumably, if your child makes good grades on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, she has learned to “play school” effectively. But this is not always the case. A student may earn good test scores on standardized tests while exerting very little effort in high school. The ability to test well without studying will not be enough to sustain your child academically at the college level.

Your child will need to have strong study skills outside of class in order to be successful in college-level work. A student with high standardized test scores but poor study skills will face extra challenges freshman year.

Parent Tip 28

A good way to get ahead of the game when it comes to time management in college is to sit down with your child, once he has gone through new student orientation and is enrolled in classes, and have him map out a weekly planning grid like the one that follows this tip.

First, have him write in his weekly class schedule. Then have him mark out the times he will be working.

Next, have him mark out times for personal care, including meals and exercise. Finally, have him calculate his needed study time for the credit hours he is taking, applying the two for one rule: two hours of study for each hour in class. Ask him to identify where on the planning grid he might have time to study. When could he study and where might he do so? If the residence hall is too noisy, where are some other places on campus that might be more conducive to study?

Having a student create a weekly time log is often an eye-opener. It gives the student a visual picture of where he is spending his time and an opportunity to regroup if his time management plan is not producing the results he wants in college.

Parent Tip 29

If your child scores into remedial courses in college, this is a red flag about his readiness to go away to school. Your child is already behind the pack going out of the starting gate.

You need to identify your child’s academic weaknesses while he is in high school and seek out academic support. It is unrealistic to expect a student who has not learned good study strategies in high school to suddenly turn around and demonstrate good study skills in college when all parental structure has been removed.

After your child has taken the ACT or COMPASS test as a junior, set up a meeting with your high school counselor. Map out a game plan of classes and support services for senior year that will help your child build his skills to the college level.

Parent Tip 30

To help your child with the social/emotional transition to college, have a debriefing session with your child after she attends freshman orientation. Using a map of campus, have your child show you the following places:

• The student health center.

• The fitness center, bike trail, or jogging path she can use to keep up an exercise routine.

• The college library.

• The location of the academic support services for writing, math, and course-specific tutoring.

• The counseling center where she can go for help.

Parent Tip 31

In dealing with the financial-aid process and other administrative matters, you have a choice to make. You can choose to do everything for your child yourself or you can teach your child how to navigate the college bureaucracy on her own.

Most parents who encourage their child to go away to college do so because they believe that their child will learn many things outside the classroom. In skills language, many parents think that by living communally in a residence hall, managing her own free time, socializing with new people, and managing money, their child will gain important adaptive and functional skills that will benefit her throughout life.

But some of the most critical life skills learned outside the classroom involve navigating the bureaucracy of higher education. If you do this work yourself, you deny your child the opportunity to learn important skills.

The following are some functional skills you can teach your child through interactions with the bureaucracy of higher education.

• How to use complex software to transact personal business.

• How to communicate effectively using e-mail.

• How to communicate verbally to get your needs met.

• How to read the fine print before you sign anything.

• How to budget.

• How to think through the implications of borrowing money before you do so.

Here are some of the adaptive skills you can teach your child through interactions with the bureaucracy of higher education:

• Responsibility

• Courtesy

• Accuracy

• Attention to detail

If you do all your child’s college administrative transactions for her, you are sabotaging her long-term growth and development. While it is always easier in the short run to do the job yourself, it is not in the best long-term interest of your child for you to do so.

Parent Tip 32

To teach your child how to manage her own business affairs in college, you will first need to figure the process out yourself. This means getting access to your child’s administrative student account.

There are two main kinds of electronic accounts your child will use in college. One is a student account that gives your child access to classroom-management software. The other is a student account that lets your child do administrative business with the college.

You should have access to your child’s administrative account. You should not have access to your child’s classroom account.

Classroom-management software allows your child to perform classroom-related functions such as turning in assignments electronically, communicating with instructors about classes, checking grades as the semester progresses, accessing supplemental course materials, and so on. Two widely used classroom-management programs are Blackboard and Web CT.

Student-administration software lets your child perform administrative tasks such as enrolling in classes each semester, checking final grades, reviewing transcripts, paying for college, checking the status of financial aid, and communicating with college personnel about these functions. Student administration software often has a college-specific label like “My State U.”

You have no business in your child’s classroom-management account. This is like sitting beside your child in the classroom. You must let your child sink or swim on her own academically in college. You can direct her to resources on campus that will help her if she tells you she is struggling, but you should not be monitoring the day-to-day interactions of her classes.

On the other hand, you should get access to your child’s administrative account for several reasons:

• You are paying for college.

• It may be the only way you will be able to see your child’s final grades.

• It is the only way you will be able to teach your child how to perform key administrative functions herself.

Because of federal privacy laws, your child will have to give you access to her administrative records. In a technological age, this is simple. Ask your child to give you her user ID and password for her student-administrative account. In addition, if your child receives financial aid, have her go to the financial aid office and fill out a consent form letting you, as a parent, talk with financial aid personnel about your child’s account.

Parent Tip 33

At each step of the administrative process, it is important for you to ask yourself, “Am I going to do this for my child or am I going to teach my child how to do this herself?”

Things you should do yourself:

• Complete your income tax forms as early as possible each year because all financial aid hinges on parental tax information.

• Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year even if you think your family income is too great to qualify for federal need-based aid. Your child probably qualifies for federal non-need-based aid, but to be considered for this money, you must complete the FAFSA.

• Educate yourself as to the important dates: the financial aid deadline, the earliest date to enroll, the date fees are due, the last date to withdraw with a full refund, partial refund dates, and so on.

• Monitor your child’s progress meeting administrative deadlines.

• Teach your child how to advocate for herself in dealings with college personnel.

• Have a clear understanding of your own financial situation before you sign on for student loan debt.

Things you should encourage your child to do:

• Log in to her student account on a regular basis.

• Check her student e-mail on a regular basis.

• Schedule and attend all testing, advising, enrollment, and orientation sessions.

• Enroll as early as possible each semester.

• Watch for financial aid deadlines.

• Turn in financial aid paperwork on time, whether in person or online.

• Be nice to the people working in the financial aid office.

• Meet with an academic advisor each semester to verify course selection.

• Go to the career center by the second semester of her freshman year to get help selecting a major.

• Advocate for herself with her instructors.

• Seek out academic support services before there are problems in a class.

Things you and your child need to have an honest discussion about before she goes to college:

• How much money your child will be borrowing.

• Where the financial aid money will be spent.

• A budget for living expenses while in college.

• How any student loans will be repaid.

• The use of student loans to pay for needs rather than wants.

• The implication of failed or dropped classes on financial aid eligibility.

• Who pays for failed or dropped courses.

• The comparative values of financial aid offers and the fact that the biggest scholarship is not always the best deal.

• Your own ability to pay for a particular college.

• The financial impact of losing a scholarship because of poor grades.

• Signing credit card offers, including retail store accounts.

• Who pays any credit card balances.

Parent Tip 34

If you are tempted to get into your child’s classroom-management account because you pay the bills, stop and think about it. Put yourself in the instructor’s shoes. Would you want 30 outside people monitoring and critiquing your work every day?

Perhaps you work in a “this call may be monitored” kind of environment. Perhaps you respond well to that kind of supervisory oversight. But if you don’t, think about how it would feel if you had to work that way.

Education is about process as much as course content and grades. It is your child’s responsibility to engage in the process. It is your child’s responsibility to communicate with her instructor and seek out help when needed. And it is your child’s responsibility to accept the consequences if the outcome is not what you or she had expected.

Parent Tip 35

Each year U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of college rankings. This report is based on a number of criteria, including the fall-to-fall retention rate for students (how many freshmen come back to the same institution the next year), the graduation rate of students who earn a degree in six years or less, and the average class size.

Here are some additional questions to ask college recruiters as you and your child develop your own list of college rankings:

• What are the top five classes in freshman enrollment?

• What is the withdrawal or failure rate in each of the top five classes (i.e., how many students in these classes earn a grade of D or F or withdraw from the class before the semester is over)?

• What are the top five undergraduate majors at this institution? How many students apply to these majors each year, and how many are accepted?

• What is the average student loan debt of graduates of this institution?

• What percentages of first-year students are enrolled in remedial math, writing, and reading classes?

The answers to these questions will help you evaluate whether an institution will be a good fit for your child.

Parent Tip 36

The “college effect” describes an increase in health-risk behaviors related to alcohol use the first semester in college. Students who formerly abstained from alcohol may begin drinking, and students who have been drinking in high school may escalate their drinking now that they are free from parental control.

It is important not to overreact or underreact to college drinking. Educate yourself on the issue. Many Web sites have excellent resource information on the topic. If you suspect your child is having alcohol problems, insist he go to the college counseling center and get an assessment before going back to school the next semester. Confronting your child in this way could be just the wake-up call he needs to change course before it is too late.

Parent Tip 37

One reason to have your child begin basic career exploration in high school is to reduce stress freshman year.

The first year of college is a huge transition for even the best and the brightest of students. Your child will have enough on his plate meeting the increased academic demands of college while making new friends and enjoying a social life. Career planning is, and should be, on the back burner.

At the same time, when your child chooses his classes for sophomore year, he needs to have a tentative major in mind. This is because certain courses are required sophomore year for entry into a major as a junior. Since sophomore enrollment usually takes place on many campuses during the spring of freshman year, your child will need to have a tentative idea of a college major near the end of freshman year to choose the right classes to be on track to graduate in four years.

Parent Tip 38

One of the many issues within higher education today is the tension between a business model of higher education and an academic model. These conflicting models can exist within the same institution and create confusion for students and parents. When is a college like any other business? When is it not? When is your child a customer and when is he a student?

Enrollment management is a business model of higher education. It is focused on increasing net revenue through marketing and customer service. Students and parents are brought into the institution under a business model. Often families have more than a year of interaction with college personnel before new student orientation begins.

The traditional professor-student relationship is an academic model. It is focused on student learning and helping students learn through all their experiences, including their mistakes and failures. Students and parents are expected to switch gears and relate to the college in an academic model once the student is accepted into school.

It is helpful to give this matter some thought before you interact with college personnel. It is also helpful for college personnel to give this matter some thought before they interact with you!

Parent Tip 39

One reason to have a conversation with your child sooner rather than later about how your family will decide where a he or she will go to college is the increasing use of electronic communication in college recruiting. Colleges are using social networking resources like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with students. Information is distributed directly to potential students in a way that appeals to teenagers and their criteria for choosing a college. The goal of the recruiting process is to create a large pool of applicants. The more students that apply, the easier it is for the college to select the best mix of students to advance its enrollment management goals.

As a parent, you have no idea how any of the online interactions your child has with recruiters will be used in the enrollment management process. Social networking as a recruitment tool is too new for you to predict how it will impact your child’s college decision.

You need to get ahead of the game. Have a conversation with your child about how your family will be making the college decision and the need for caution in sharing too much personal information in social networking exchanges with college reps.

Parent Tip 40

The decision to go away to college or attend college while living at home is not an all-or-nothing decision. A student can live at home for an agreed-upon time and then transfer to another institution.

If this is your family game plan, it is important for your student to work closely with the advising office at both schools to make sure all courses will transfer and that all prerequisite courses for a major are included in the plan of study.

Parent Tip 41

If cost is an issue to you, make sure your high school counselor knows what your priorities are and which colleges you are considering.

Many people, including educators, are unaware of how much of today’s financial aid packaging consists of loans rather than grants and scholarships. If this will be an issue for you, make sure those influencing your child understand your position. Giving a young person a college education is a tremendous gift, but so is making sure a young person can start adult life with little or no debt.

Parent Tip 42

If your child has not completed college composition and college algebra courses in high school, he may be required to take a placement test before enrolling for those courses as a college freshman. Some schools use the ACT or SAT tests to place students in first-semester college courses, while others have their own placement tests to determine which courses a student must take.

If your child will be taking a placement test before enrolling, make sure he does some review before taking the test. If your child did not take a math course senior year, it is especially important for him to review math concepts before the placement test so he does not score into remedial courses in college. Have your child go to the public library and check out a study guide to use to refresh his skills in writing, reading, and math before taking any college placement test.

Parent Tip 43

When your child calls from college and talks about a problem he is experiencing, he may be venting or he may need your help. You won’t know until you listen. Rather than jump into action to fix the problem, say something like, “Tell me what you’ve done already to solve the problem.” By listening carefully and letting your child brainstorm solutions to his own difficulties, you will be teaching problem-solving and self-advocacy skills rather than taking the problem away from your child and fixing it yourself.

Parent Tip 44

The easiest way to determine if you are over the top on any of your parental interventions is to ask yourself, “Would I want to work with my child if this behavior was going on?”

If your child were working in the office cubicle next to yours and assigned to your project team, how would you react if

• His mother called his supervisor to challenge his performance review?

• His dad had online access to your team discussion board and project timelines?

• His mother rewrote his monthly sales reports?

• His dad sat in the waiting room while he interviewed for a job?

• His dad called your supervisor to complain about you?

Stop and think about it. Are you sabotaging the development of your child’s adaptive skills by doing things he should be doing for himself? Are you giving him a vote of “no confidence” when it comes to dealing with life? Are you denying him the opportunity to learn from his mistakes?

In four or five short years, your child will be entering the workforce. At that time, he will need to have the skills employers want. The most valued skills employers consistently say they are looking for include the following:

• Adaptability

• Commitment

• Communication

• Cooperation

• Being a team player

• Customer focus

• Dependability

• Honesty

• Integrity

• Initiative

• Innovation

• Quality focus

• Engagement

What is your child’s portfolio when it comes to demonstrating these skills? What are you doing as a parent to help your child develop these key skills?

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