If you have a child of your own, a niece or nephew, or another young person you are helping prepare for college, there are a few things you can do to help them get ready. That first semester can be a shock, and while some young people thrive, others may need a little extra support. Here are some ways you can help without overstepping your bounds and interfering in the student’s independent development.
One of the biggest types of assistance most students could use is financial. You could establish a college savings account for the child at any time. When it is time for them to apply for financial aid, they might need a cosigner for a private loan to cover tuition and expenses. This is usually because they are simply too young to have established a credit score. You can be the cosigner although you should be aware that you will be responsible for the loan if the student cannot pay it. Finally, you might help the student do some shopping for needed supplies for their dorm room or apartment.
A Preparatory Visit
If the college is not too far away, you could accompany the student up for a trip in the summer before school starts. This could just be a casual trip that is focused on checking out the town, recreational options, and any other places that may be of interest. It can help with first-week nerves if the student has had the opportunity to find a favorite coffee shop or other familiar spots near campus before classes begin.
Obviously, with the proliferation of COVID, this becomes more difficult to do. Though many colleges and universities are adapting to the change in rules, and have an interest in keeping students and staff safe. Often they will offer virtual visits on campus. Some of these are pre-recorded and accessible online, or via a university branded YouTube page. Other times you can sign up for a live tour with a group of peers via a Zoom or Duo call.
Be a Listening Ear
Whether you are a parent, an older sibling, or have another relationship with the new college freshman, you can also help just by being a listening ear who is not a peer. You can ask open-ended questions if the student is not particularly forthcoming.
For example, you can ask them how they are feeling about their classes or their roommate if they have thoughts about their major, and how they are spending their time. The idea here is not to sound like you are interrogating or expecting certain types of answers but to try to prompt conversation.
Know When to Step Back
Whatever your relationship with the young person is, if you are close, you might struggle to let go. However, this is also important in helping them adjust to their first semester. If you are a parent, this can be particularly hard, and your instinct may be to step in to solve any problems. Even if your relationship with the student is different, you still need to know when to give them space.
In addition to offering a new level of independence, the college years are also a time of change for many people. The high school senior who is determined to study medicine might discover a passion for history, or a formerly shy teen might find a new self-confidence playing in a band. Family and friends can help them stay grounded, but they should not stifle the new identity the student may be trying to explore in the first semester.