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3 essential parent-student talks before college

No man is an island and the college-bound can benefit from a team
No man is an island and the college-bound can benefit from a team
Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

If no man is an island and it takes a village to raise a child, then the college-bound can benefit from a team. Lots of changes are coming and the to-do list is growing. Colleges treat admitted students as adults and families have to adjust to relating to adult children. Parents and students can form a team to tackle the college admission process and this new family dynamic. The parent-student team can start with addressing three basic issues of college cost, communication and consequences.

The advantage of the team approach is to work together to achieve a common goal of student success in college and beyond. As teens grow toward legal independence, parents can help them transition into independent, self-supporting, good decision-makers who look forward to starting their own careers and adult life while continuing regular family contact.

College cost talk
The first thing on the college cost talk agenda is the concept of affordability. It’s time to build on the how to spend an allowance conversation to how to make an affordable higher education investment. Parents and children often think differently about money. They have differing experiences and points of view. They are at dissimilar life stages.

As for where careers fit in their future, students are thinking which they want to pursue and parents are considering when they may be able to retire. Paying the college bill means a major financial shift of assets that could impact everyone’s lifestyle. For those assuming education loans, families have to keep in mind there is no loan for retirement.

Affordability is about being able to maintain a certain lifestyle based on income and expenses. Once everyone is on the same page, families can use the parent-student team to create a budget, learn about college costs, apply for financial aid and scholarships, and make a financial plan.

Communication talk
The method, frequency and content of exchanging info between parents and students change during college so families should have a communication talk. The objective during the college process is to strengthen the family bond while sharing information, opinions and decisions on a jointly agreed upon regular basis.

The hardest part for parents is to respect the conclusion their adult child reaches if it differs from their own. Concentrate on the process to be kept in the loop. There are always future issues to be discussed and advice offered when asked. Parents cannot expect their student to do his best unless he is vested in the final decision. Keep this in mind when helping the student form a college list, take a collegecation (college visit + family vacay), choose a major, decide which scholarships to apply to, study for tests, and analyze admission and financial aid offers.

Show support via the parent-student team by helping with organization and decision-making skills. Be good listeners for each other so everyone is comfortable sharing both good and bad news. When needed, find the best expert advice for test preparation, extracurricular activities and study aids.

Consequences talk
Actions have consequences and the consequences talk is based on the idea of responsibility. Students need to master this key concept in order to develop life skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond. Transition the convo from failure to put away toys to dropping the ball with a college roommate.

As teens age, parents can use the parent-student team to pass the responsibility torch and encourage the student to take the lead in college prep and personal growth. Being accountable for their decisions will help students problem solve, weigh options, learn from mistakes and celebrate accomplishments. Making good choices about eating, sleeping, exercise and behavior will maintain health on and off campus.

The parent-student team is uniquely positioned to turn healthy choices into a habit. Families can use it to model soft skills of communication, critical thinking, teamwork, time management and leadership. Students should be ready to deal with the aftermath, develop a Plan B, make lemonade from lemons and move forward.

The big three “C” parent-student team talks cover the essential basics necessary to navigate the college process and earn a college education. Students can focus on completing school on time and take advantage of on and off campus opportunities. This will further maximize the value of their diploma as they start their own careers, adapt to their parent-adult child relationship and continue sharing information.

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