Some Tips on Sending Kids Away to College

A few things I've picked up from sending four kids to college

I didn't really want to write a "how to send kids off to college" article, because everyone's situation is different. But since I've been through it four times myself, I've picked up a few pointers which I hope might be helpful.

Sending kids to college starts eight months before they actually leave, when you go online and fill out a fafsa, or free application for federal student aid, from www.fafsa.ed.gov/.  You'll want to do this in February of their senior year at the latest, before all the aid is snapped up. This means you'll have to get your income tax return done early, since you'll need information in it to complete the fafsa. The fafsa is a long pain in the rear to fill out, but you'll only have to do it once, because after your child's freshman year you can fill out a renewal fafsa, which is much easier.

There is a section of the fafsa where you can list the colleges you want your financial information to go to. You can list six colleges, so list all the ones you and your child think he might want to go to. That way if he decides to transfer, he can easily get aid from his new college. You don't have to actually apply to all the schools that you list.

Because of the economy, grants and scholarships have largely dried up. So, unless your child is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate or you're related to Warren Buffett, you'll be financing college with loans. This can be scary. But the loans have good terms and a choice of payment options, plus you can get deferments for hardships. You'll probably end up with a combination of student loans, which are your child's obligation, and parent loans, which are your obligation. Student loans are not repaid until the student graduates. But parent loan payments start the spring of the school year that the loan covers.

About April you'll get a letter from the school describing what loans and any other aid your child is getting. You'll have to send back a letter of acceptance. Be sure to do this before the deadline. Now you're all set up, financially at least.

A word about college drinking. It's a sensitive subject, and I hesitate to write about it for fear of sounding either too lax or too preachy. You can use your own good judgment when you discuss it with your son or daughter. One thing to remember is that people who aren't used to drinking, and who drink a lot at once, can die from alcohol poisoning. Your child should be aware of this.

Now for shopping. You'll have the summer to stock up for the big move, a project not unlike planning for an Arctic expedition. Your child will remember electronic necessities, such as a cell phone, laptop and ipod. He'll remember clothes. But he won't think about sheets, blankets, and towels. He also won't remember things like soap and toothpaste, which have always magically appeared in the bathroom. It's a good time to make a list.

Some large colleges have a small refrigerator and microwave in the dorm rooms, a nice convenience because the cafeteria may be several blocks away. So you'll want to add groceries to the list. Ramen noodles, Lipton Cup-o-Soup, and Chef Boyardee are all good non-perishable items to bring. Any canned foods are good, and you can encourage canned vegetables, but don't forget a can opener. Packs of sugar-free Kool-aid are convenient. The refrigerator will not be very big, so things like Hot Pockets will fit into it pretty well. Don't forget a couple microwaveable bowls, and some paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic dinnerware.

Dorm rooms are generally small and many are microscopic, so encourage your child to bring only necessities. After the first semester, though, he'll be a pro at packing, and you won't need to say a word.

Your child will need access to cash, and you'll probably need to get some idea what banking is available in the area the college is in. Some colleges are in the middle of a big city and some are in isolated rural areas. It might be a good idea to contact student services and find out what most of the students there do. If your young person is pretty responsible, a credit card could be an option.

When you arrive at the dorm, you may discover that your child's roommate is from a neighborhood you wouldn't go into at night, a country you've never heard of, or a religion you've never understood. This is a good thing. This will be a great experience for him. This is why your child is going away to college--to meet new people and discover the fun of learning about them and getting along with them.

The moment will finally come when you and your child have to part, and you have to leave him in this strange new place. It's perfectly okay for both parties to blubber. After all, this is a big transition. He'll never really live at home again; any time he spends there from now on will be only temporary.

Most colleges realize homesickness is a big issue, and for the first couple of weeks in the fall they have all kinds of activities for freshmen--games, rallies, concerts, and goofy entertainment. This gives the kids a chance to make friends and have a positive experience in the new environment. For the most part, they quickly settle in. My one son said, "I was really homesick, until suddenly I realized that this was the coolest place I'd ever been in my life."

So pretty soon this big transition will become routine. And you'll find out there's a new, mature person in the family--your kid!

Picture by Kathleen Murphy

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Kathleen Murphy
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Posted on Jun 10, 2010
Patrick Regoniel
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Posted on Jun 10, 2010