Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sending your kid to college

CNN today seems to be running a special on getting ready for college, especially from the parents' angle. First, there's what to pack, and then there's easing your kid's transition to college. It seems just a little early to panic, or maybe I'm in denial.

But, the articles left out some really important stuff. So here, direct from the fingertips of a gen-u-ine college professor to your monitor is some advice.

What to pack:

Birth control. If you've got a daughter, make sure she has whatever birth control is appropriate for her, along with emergency contraceptives. If her doctor won't prescribe these without some danged good medical reason, then find another doctor, or your local Planned Parenthood. For either a son or daughter, send along a box of condoms. If s/he doesn't use them for sex, a friend or roommate may, and your kid will make the world better or at least safer. Or you can use them as balloons at a party at the end of the year.

A while back now, one of my first year students gave an informational talk on birth control pills; as part of the talk she talked about how her Mom had taken her to get a prescription and stuff. And all I could think was, "smart Mom!"

I don't think kids are lots more likely to have sex if they're on the pill. But they're LOTS less likely to get pregnant when they don't want to! (Being on the pill helps reduce risks of ovarian cancer, too!)

I speak from personal experience on this: one of my college roommates swore she and her boyfriend weren't going to have premarital sex. Next thing, she announced she was pregnant. Then she dropped out of school.

Good shoes, comfortable clothes, and outdoor toys. Ideally, a frisbee should be part of every college student's belongings, or a hackeysack. Or skates, a bike... something to get out of the dorms and get some fresh air and exercise.

An extra pair of glasses, contacts, or medical prescriptions. 'nuff said.

A copy of Making the Most of College (Richard Light) or a similar book. Read it yourself, and then pass it along to your kid. For most students, college is a great experience; but it can take a long time to figure stuff out, especially for first generation college students. Books such as this (along with campus services) can help. Encourage your kid to talk to advisors and faculty!

A good dictionary. Maybe two! (One big desk dictionary, and one small paperback pocket dictionary.) (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

What not to pack:

A television. Seriously, there will be plenty of televisions to see, but they're still not a good alternative to studying.

A cell phone. Okay, if you MUST. But don't call your kid more than once a week without a very good reason. Be supportive, but don't hover. Most kids make it and do fine. A few don't. Yes, that would be bad if it's your kid, but hovering isn't really going to help your kid succeed as an independent adult. And teach your kid how to turn the phone off, and keep it off, especially in classes!

Helping your kid transition:

Teach your kid to manage a budget. NOW. Have him her practice over the summer if s/he hasn't learned the skill before. Teach him/her to balance his/her checkbook, pay bills, and plan ahead. Visit a local college bookstore and get an idea what texts cost (but don't buy them unless you're sure your kid will be using those texts and editions), what housing costs, and so on. If you or your kid will be taking out financial aid, then involve him/her in every step of the process. Figure out how much each hour of classtime (figure 15 hours/week on average) costs, and make sure your kid knows.

Work on time management skills. NOW! Also look up what kinds of programs your kid's college has to help students transition, and make sure s/he knows that getting help and stuff is what the best students do early. But late is better than never.

Invite your kid home for Thanksgiving, and not before (unless there's a VERY special occasion). Most kids will be homesick at first. And then, in the tradition of college students since colleges began, they'll make friends and start to feel more comfortable. Going home on weekends delays that, and it takes travel time away from studying.

Write a letter once a week, and ask your kid to do the same. Save the letters (or copies). Don't call every day. This is an opportunity for your kid to learn to be an adult, and the changes as s/he grows will be enormous, and wonderful to look back on; letters are a great way (along with journals) to record those changes.

Teach your son about rape prevention. Men can do a lot more to prevent rape than any number of women being careful can. All he needs to do is refuse to rape someone.

Check out the different student organizations your kid's school has and encourage him/her to get involved. Start by getting him/her involved with tutoring or some other community activity now. Students who get involved in their school or community say they have a better college experience than those who don't.

Majors. Don't worry about your kid's major, or whether they're taking Anthropology, Shakespeare, or Nuclear Physics classes. Most students change majors a couple times, and fussing isn't going to make the changes easier. Studies show that most employers are looking for skills rather than specific knowledge sets, so help your kid focus on learning to read and write well and critically, learning math, learning to work well in groups and lead groups, learning to speak comfortably in public, and learning to listen carefully and critically. Research suggests that kids in this generation will change jobs or careers several times, so it's better to focus on skills than on learning Fortran or C plus whatever.

Wanting your kid to study teaching or business because they seem most employable is understandable, but it's a mistake. Encourage your kid to find his/her passion and follow it, and things will likely work out.

Finally, if your kid has successfully graduated from high school and gotten into college, give yourself a pat on the back. Then sit back and watch the magic happen, because a good college experience is just that, magic.

Now I'm going back into denial mode... classes don't start for months. MONTHS, I tell you!!!!


  1. Excellent! All the things I/we wish students and parents knew. I hope you don't mind if I link to this in the future....

  2. I would add "teach your kid about nutrition" too. I know I gained a LOT of weight when I left home for the first time, just because I didn't really have a sense of why the things my mother had been feeding me were better than picking up a couple donuts before class.