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Helping Your Children Prepare for College

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

In a year (or two, or three) your baby will be off to college! Like any loving parent, you want to get them started off on the right foot. But beyond buying new pillows and comforters for their dorm room, what does that look like? Here are a few ideas:

Talk with them about their goals. A successful college student is one who sets his or her own goals for learning and for life, then takes the necessary steps to turn a plan into reality. If you can help your child think through what he or she wants for himself out of adulthood and figure out the basic steps to get from here to there, then he or she will start college with an eye to the future and a sense of internal motivation that most freshmen lack.

Model independent learning. As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, children do as we do, and not as we say! When was the last time you took a class or taught yourself a new skill? If the answer is “not recently”–or if you can’t remember for sure—then it’s time to start thinking about what you would like to do to keep your skills current and grow your own understanding of the world. Your child will learn more from watching you turn down a coffee date with a friend because you plan to study than he or she would absorb from a million lectures. Browse StateUniversity.com for exciting online learning opportunities in just about every area of study you can imagine.

Go visit colleges together. Have fun walking around campuses and observing. Nobody knows your child better than you, so don’t be afraid to make observations about what he or she might like (or hate) about a particular campus or academic program. Don’t forget to try the dining hall and dorms together, too.

Let them take responsibility (and make mistakes) A successful college student is one who can schedule his or her own time effectively, study without prompting, solve problems independently, and wash a load of laundry like a pro. The very best way for most teenagers to acquire these skills is simply to learn by doing. Your child might sleep through first period or turn all his sheets lime green while he gets the hang of it, true, but wouldn’t you rather they learn how to handle these problems in high school rather than college?

Investigate financial contribution rules and financial aid possibilities early on. In general, money in the child’s name will be expected to be used in higher proportions than any saving you have in your name. Any money that grandparents have put aside for college in their own names will not be considered by a financial aid office. This is to your advantage, so if you or your spouse’s parents would like to contribute to college costs, ask them to wait to do so until after you have submitted the FAFSA and the financial aid office at your child’s school has made their calculations.

As in all things, a little preparation goes a long way, so even if your child is not a junior or senior yet, you can still start preparing for “the big move”. Make the most of your remaining time together—and don’t forget to enjoy it!


Elisabeth Bailey+

Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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