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I Admit It, I Am A Newbie College Parent – Here’s Five Things I Wish I Knew Before They Started

It’s alright to be nervous. College is a big step, even for parents. Your student will get all kinds of orientation and guidance from high school on into college. But what about us new college parents. There are the college visits, scholarships, admissions applications, financial aid forms, meal plans, textbooks and everything else that goes with college. Our children think we have the answers to all of this, but we don’t.

I am the father of five college students, two that have recently graduated and I remember those feelings. I’m here to give you a few tips on what to expect and where to find the answers to your questions. Trust me it may seem overwhelming at first, but you will gradually reach a comfort level if you follow these simple guidelines.

Tip 1 – Do Your Prep Work: Take the time and effort with your child to visit and attend campus tours and open houses at a minimum of five to ten colleges. Rate each college and ask for FREE applications. Many colleges will offer them if you attend their open house and ask.

Encourage your student to apply to a minimum of five colleges that offer what they are looking for. Mix in some public, private, local and out-of-state institutions. Revisit their favorites if necessary and ask lots of questions.

Once narrowed down, have your child arrange to sit in on a couple classes and stay overnight at each of their top three colleges, preferably on a Friday to a Saturday. This will give them a real look at the college and help make their decision much easier.

Tip 2 – Numbers Count: Encourage your child to apply for at least one scholarship every week during the second half of their senior year of high school. Then one per month for the rest of their college years. Volume counts. The more times they apply, the easier it will get. There are so many scholarships out there and some of them go unclaimed, especially for second, third and fourth year college students. Apply and Apply often.

Tip 3 – File Early: Especially for their first year in college, get your income taxes and FAFSA filed as early as possible after January 1st of their high school senior year. If you have to use your previous year’s income tax return and estimate, do it. Getting the FAFSA in early will help get the most available financial aid and get the process moving forward. You can revise your numbers later when you complete and file your income tax return.

Tip 4 – Be Realistic: Prepare them for the following. Total freedom, alcohol, sex, drugs and partying. Talk with them about safety, DWI, date rape and STD’s. Even though you may trust them, they are going to be exposed to a new and open lifestyle on most college campuses and they need to be prepared to handle it. It is unrealistic to expect them to ignore their peers and their surroundings. Just make sure they know what you would like them to do when temptation arises. I always told my kids to think about what their grandmother would say if she found out about it and try to act accordingly and responsible.

Tip 5 – Find Savings: Savings can be found on and off campus each year if you are looking. Help them by suggesting ways that they might be able to cut college costs and encourage them to keep their eyes open for others. One example is to never buy your textbooks exclusively from the college bookstore. By looking around or online for new and used textbooks you can save hundreds each semester and may be able to resell them after classes to cut the cost even further. This alone will save over a thousand during their four years.

Summary: These are a few ideas that you can and should use before they graduate from high school. As you know, it is a brave new world out there and we can all learn a lot if we know what we are looking for. I was dreading their college years as it grew closer, I probably even panicked at times. In hindsight, our oldest daughter helped pave the way and it got easier with each one. I learned more than I thought I would and you will to.

If you would like to discover additional ways to make your transition smoother, help maximize financial aid or more ways to reduce college expenses, you can download our FREE College Cost Savings Kit by clicking here.

You might also want to print this article and share it with a friend. It could help them better prepare for college and save some money (and headaches) in the process.