This last year has been a whirlwind. Between dealing with filling out college applications, reviewing scholarship opportunities, discerning endless emails as junk or legit, completing FAFSA forms, getting inundated with a billion to do’s from the college she choose, thinking about majors, purchasing stuff for her dorm, and figuring out options on how to pay for everything has been quite a struggle. This is my first child. I had no idea what was involved and boy do I wish I could go back a few years and prepare better. What would I do differently, and if you are a parent with a child who will one day go to college, what should you do?
Save for College
Doesn’t matter how old your child is. Start saving, even if it’s a little and very sporadic. Whenever you can spare $10 or $20, deposit it to the account. Take a portion of a tax refund, add it to the account. Sell some stuff on EBay, add some of it to the account. I was all gung ho when my kids were babies and opened up college accounts for them then with the intention of adding to them every year, then life happened and it seemed like we always had an excuse not to add money. Year after year, our expenses grew, until eventually I said, “What’s the point now? I’ll just figure out a way to pay for it when the time comes.” Well, the time is now here and I wish I’d put back even $100 a year. At least I could pay for textbooks with that.
Make Appointment with Guidance Counselor When Freshman in High School
When you child is 14, you’re in the middle of dealing with major attitude changes, watching your child struggle with peer pressures and choosing their path. The last thing many of you are worried about is college, but no matter how premature it may seem, if for no other reason than to get a high level idea of what you’ll need to do their junior and senior years, it’s worth it to take a half hour and meet with your child’s high school college guidance counselor. If you are like me, just having some basic info deposited into my brain helps me prepare later. I like to chew on things versus getting hit with too many things at once and get overwhelmed not being able to digest it all.
Find out what your child’s school does to help prepare them for college. My daughter graduated from a wonderful public school but either they didn’t put much emphasis on helping their students know what is involved, or my daughter didn’t pay attention, and I sure didn’t ask. Contrast that to my son who is a rising junior in a private school and he’s been researching schools, looking at scholarships opportunities, and making notes of required test scores and GPA’s since he enrolled his freshman year. He’s ahead of the game. Heck, he’s knows more than I do even after going through it with Haley for a year. I’m sure every school is different regardless of whether they are public or private. Don’t count on the school to do it all. Parents must be actively engaged in the conversations from early on.
Make Sure Your Student Knows How Important It Is
Not only do I wish I had asked Haley about what scholarships are available or what the requirements are for the universities she was interested in, SHE now wishes she’d known in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade just how important each class’ final grade was to her GPA and getting into college. Funny, she settled for A’s, B’s, and an occasional C and D her first 3 years of high school, then after she sweated it out not knowing if she’d get into the college she wanted, she made all A’s her senior year. The first time she took her ACT, she blew it off, then began to take it a little more seriously the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time especially when she still hadn’t gotten an acceptance letter from UTK which has pretty high academic requirements. She made it in…barely. Now, she’s thinking about sororities and low and behold, the questions keep coming up about her GPA, her class rank, and her test scores. It’s important and the kids need to understand how important early to help prepare.
Understand the differences between Honors, AP, and Dual Enrollment classes
My son took an AP History class this year. Up until today when I met with his counselor, I didn’t know how the whole AP thing works. Turns out he can get valuable college credit by passing a test at the end of the year. Colleges place high emphasis on AP classes. Honors classes help, too, but they work an entirely different way. Then there are Dual Enrollment options. If you don’t know what Dual Enrollment, AP and Honors , are, find out now so you can optimize for your child’s specific goals. Remember, taking Dual Enrollment classes in high school is much less expensive than taking the same course in college.
Beware of Junk and Scams
There are so many organizations out there looking to profit off us soon-to-be parents of college students. You type “scholarships” into Google and pages and pages of options populate. I only visited a few, but soon realized most were just looking to get an email address to spam me with offers of stuff that doesn’t interest me. Then, I found one that was tremendously helpful in sorting out all the potential scholarships. The one I prefer using is Fastweb. The student registers, preferably as a junior or senior. There is a tab with featured scholarships where you and your student can review the due dates and criteria, mark whether or not you will apply, might apply, not apply, not eligible, or applied already. It sends weekly emails to remind you when new scholarships are posted or if a deadline is coming up. Some scholarships simply require submitting a form, others require an essay or video, and some require the student to send out texts or post announcements on social media. You still may get spam, but if you are like me, you’ll get so much value out of it that it will be worth it. There may be other very legitimate websites that offer the same service. Choose what works for you.
Start Cutting the Strings
Having just returned from orientation at UTK, I was with about 2,500 other parents from all over the country and we all had one other thing in common besides sending a child to UTK in the fall. It seems we were all trying to be in control of all their choices, be it schedules, what organizations to join, where to live, etc. I wasn’t expecting the multiple sessions directed to parents only that stressed our kids need to be in control of it ALL, not us. They are 18, and they are in control whether ready or not. We were strongly encouraged to cut the strings and enable them to take on more responsibility. Just because parents may be paying the bill for the education doesn’t give us the right to see their grades, or know what their schedules are or be kept informed when they’ve lost a book.The kids have a right to privacy much like the healthcare world has HIPPA. It’s called FERPA, and it is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Who knew? Not me.
I’ll be writing more in the coming months about this whole experience as my brain is still reeling from it all. It’s difficult to put together cohesive thoughts but I’m going to try so that I can help parents of younger students get ready for what was surely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and it’s only just begun. An older friend of mine who has been through it said I need to manage the actual college experience like a Project Manager. He suggested I purchase a thick binder with lots of tabs. And here I thought phasing her into kindergarten was tough.