I talk to a lot of well-meaning parents out there who have a hard time knowing how to best prepare their kids for college. They don’t want to annoyingly overload them with life advice (cue the eye rolls), but they also know it’s their job to give guidance as their teens step into adulthood.
So, what’s the sweet spot? How can you empower your student to feel the freedom they crave while still giving them the guidance they need?
Whether your family is just starting to talk college or your baby is heading off this fall, I’ve found that these three tips help set a solid foundation for your college student (and hopefully they’ll help you have some good conversations too!). Let’s dive in.
Have a plan (even if it’s a loose one). Remember when it was your kid’s first day of school ever? Those wide, excited (possibly terrified) eyes. A backpack that’s way too big bouncing on their backs. With a little guidance from you, I’m guessing your child had a vague idea of what to expect: Arrive at school, learn in class, eat lunch, play, learn some more, and come home. And that direction helped them face the unknown with confidence.
Well, they may not be itty bitty anymore, but this is still true: Your kids need a plan. Up until this point, most students have basically had their lives planned for them, so they’ll need your help thinking about the future, considering the consequences of their decisions, and mapping out how they reach goals.
This includes decisions like picking a school that has their interest of study (that you can afford without loans), choosing a major and understanding what further schooling, internships or potential careers look like, and encouraging them to try new things and get involved socially.
Of course, it’s just the beginning. So, try to have check-ins with your student along the way to make sure their plan still serves whatever their goal has become.
Teach them how to handle money. This is one of the most important things you can do to set your kids up for success. Why? Well, the average student owes over $30,000 in student loans at graduation, and over half of those students are still chained to $20,000 of that debt 20 years later.1
Even if your family isn’t able to support your child financially, your child doesn’t have to drown in debt or make bad money decisions. Start by being very clear up front on how (or if) you’ll be helping financially and what they’ll be responsible for. Walk alongside them as they find scholarships, part-time jobs (looking at you Chick-fil-A), or work-study programs. And teach them how to budget the money they earn from those things.
Make sure they also understand what insurance they need, why they need it, and how to get it. And consistently warn them that everyone is going to try to convince them to borrow money, get the latest credit card, take out a car loan, etc. Talk about the pitfalls of those things and remind them that, regardless of what everyone else is doing, it’s much better to be the weird one paying in full with cash.
Encourage them to surround themselves with solid people. Entrepreneur Jim Rohn famously says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And he’s right. You want your student to make good friends, try new things, open their eyes to the world, and have fun. But if this phase of life is about preparing for the future, one of the most important things they can learn is how to find their people and make friendships.
Friendships get you through life. And I’m not talking about the “friends” you follow on social media. I’m talking about the people who know the good stuff and the bad stuff and still show up. It’s so important for your kid to learn how to balance having responsibilities and growing real relationships that build them up rather than tear them down. If you have a shy child, they might need a little more help and guidance. And if your child has a bit of a wild side (God bless them), they may need some direction on how to find good, fun, safe relationships.
Some of my very best friends to this day are friends I made in college. These are the people who encouraged me when I felt like giving up, helped me feel at home when I felt homesick, and made me laugh so hard it hurt. College is an environment that’s challenging and constantly changing, so make sure your kid doesn’t underestimate how important solid relationships are.
When your child goes to college, they get new everything: new schedules, new friends, new financial responsibilities, new social experiences, new freedom. Change is stressful for them and for you. As you prepare your kid for college, remember to have compassion … and fun. This is a new and challenging step for your family, but it’s an adventure that should be the start of something incredible!
After winning $500K in scholarships and graduating from her dream school with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, Kristina Ellis set out to help students create their own plan to earn a debt-free education. She’s the best-selling author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner and How to Graduate Debt-Free. She is a featured expert in the 2021 documentary Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, Seventeen, and Money. As a Ramsey Personality, Kristina helps thousands of families nationwide navigate the complex waters of college finance and graduate debt-free.