The fun adventure of getting your child ready for college

Students Studying on Campus Grounds

I remember the feeling well. It was a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I drove our daughter in a van loaded with everything she needed for her first year in residence at Carleton University. Have we done everything to prepare her for a university education? Will she be up to the challenge of living away from home for the first time? Did we really remember to pack everything that she will need?

This is the time of year when many parents are preparing for that same journey. It will look slightly different for all – and yet be remarkably the same. That van-load of supplies (inevitably including the ubiquitous mini-fridge). The nerves. The excitement. The frenetic activity of moving in. The good-bye (maybe even a few tears). The quiet drive home.

I have now sent three of my children off for their first year of university. And through that experience there are a few thoughts I did...or wished I had done...to help them in that transition. Here are just four ideas to consider.

  1. Set a budget.
    Hopefully this is a not a new concept for your son or daughter. But for many of them, this will be the first time when they have to balance that all-important life skill of making sure that the money going out is not greater than the money coming in. Help them make a simple plan and make sure they have a way to track it.
  2. Make contingency plans.
    Even the best laid budget will not be perfect. Inevitably there will be unanticipated costs come up over the course of the year. With my children, we did two things. First we made sure they had a low-limit student credit card (and made very sure that they understood it was for emergencies only). And second, we established bank accounts in their name which we had access to. This meant that if there was an urgent financial need, I could get money into their account with a few clicks of the mouse.
  3. Strike the right balance between hovering and disengaging.
    As our children age, parents walk the fine line between being directive (as we are with toddlers) to being advisors (as we are with our university-bound children). I have heard from staff in post-secondary schools that the “helicopter” parent is a well known phenomenon. These are those parents who are constantly hovering over their child, quickly swooping in to their defense at the first sign of an issue. Well-intentioned helicopter parents are, in my view, doing more harm than good. As a parent, you need to give your university-age child space to make decisions...and maybe even make mistakes which they then have to resolve. But at the same time you have to be engaged – talk them through issues, help them resolve them effectively. Teach them the skills they will need to navigate the complexities of life.
  4. Challenge them to get actively engaged in their university
    For kids far away from home for the first time, university can be a lonely place. But university also offers an abundance of opportunities to get engaged in positive, constructive ways. Encourage your son or daughter to explore the many opportunities to get involved in campus life. Whether it be sports, debate club, school newspaper or some other group that appeals to him or her, getting involved in more than just academic pursuits will help the experience to be a positive one.

It’s an exciting time. You have done well to prepare your child for this day academically, financially, and emotionally. Enjoy the ride!