The Good News: You’ve done a remarkable job of raising your child to begin his/her first steps towards higher learning and self-sufficiency.
The Bad News: You’re on the hook for 4 (hopefully, only 4) years of tuition, books and beer money. Plus room and board expenses equivalent to the cost of a mid-priced home in America (or 2 parking spots in Beijing).
A general distinction between high school and college is that at college you’re on your own. And I’m talking about the parents. Colleges will not send you reminders of upcoming exam dates, holidays or even their grade scores. You’ve got to find this on your own; with dogged perseverance from web pages buried deeply in college websites, emails to freshman administration staff, advice from other college parents and the occasional nagging at your child. Recent technology has made it possible to get a better handle of what’s going on by joining a facebook group associated with the college (search for words including “Spring Break,” “Beer Pong,” “Wet, Wet, Wet”).
Before You Go: Check out the college websites for any special negotiated hotel rates for families of students. Special prices for car rentals may also be available.
Review the school calendar. Many schools require students to leave the dorm during Christmas break (depart the last day of the semester, return the day before the next semester begins). Waiting to buy their airplane ticket till the last moment may cost more as they usually occur during peak periods.
Dorm, Sweet Dorm: Months before the first day of college, you’ll be inundated with emails and junk mail from “official” suppliers of dorm bedding and linens, computers, office supplies, etc… wait until you arrive to the college as local retailers offer bigger discounts and variety. HP offers students special discounts on computers online. Apple also offers discounts; check with the college bookstore for their product line.
Good bargains can also be found on college websites for second hand books (also available from the college bookstores), refrigerators, microwaves, TV’s and other necessities.
Some colleges offer rental plans for dorm appliances. This may be more convenient than buying as storage isn’t required during the summer break.
If the college is located near a “warehouse retailer” such as Costco or Sam’s Club, it’s a great investment to buy a membership and stock up on snacks, laundry detergent, beverages and school supplies.
An Apple A Day: If your child needs to undergo a physical exam and/or get vaccinated, many supermarkets in the USA now have on-site mini clinics that will do this for a much lower price than regular health clinics. No appointments are necessary, walk-in and take a number. Colleges have clinics on site but most aren’t available until the first day of school and students need to be inoculated before school begins.
I Work Hard For The Money: At some point in the first semester, most colleges hold a “Job Fair”. This is where students can apply for jobs around campus. Typical jobs include administration work, library duties, wait staff, maintenance. Priority for these positions go to students on Work Study programs and those on Financial Assistance.
With room and board, typical student monthly miscellaneous expenses average around USD 250-300. Set up a bank account for your child with a debit card. If you also set up an account for yourself at the same bank, it will be easier to transfer money online (and without extra fees). It may be prudent to transfer money to your child in monthly increments than as a lump sum. Nothing motivates a college student to call their parents more than a need for money!
Where Have You Been? Phone Plans, Text, Phone cards, Skype, VoIP. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. So too with your child and his/her newly found freedom. Waiting for your child to call may be like waiting for snow in July. Look into a phone plan with international and unlimited texting. Buy a VoIP phone system (for more information click here) to bring home. With this you can get a US assigned number and everyone can call and receive calls for free.
Too Good To Be True: The number one tip for freshmen is, “If You Want To Pass, Go To Class.” Now this may seem simple but when gray streaks of light barely break the dawn and it’s -20°C with a meter and a half of snow in your way; staying in bed seems a much better option especially since the parental units are 10,000 kilometers away. Now I’m not advocating a regular 6am wake-up call, but after an ABC (Anything But Clothes) all-nighter; you might want to help start their day with a cheery “Get out of bed!” from time to time.
The Bottom Line: In the US, student’s grade results are private. Parents cannot access the results without their approval. Results are generally given out online with a password and user ID. Talk with your child before the semester begins about how you will get information on their grades.
And Fade Out:
College Campus. Afternoon. Mother turns and hugs Son.
Mother: Well, you’re on your own now.
Son: Yeah, and so are you. Well, sorta.
Mother: Study hard and make some friends. Try to do your laundry at least once a week.
Son: Yeah, yeah. Well I gotta go. Love you.
Mother: I love you too, take care of yourself. And call me! (tears fall, she hugs him tighter).
They turn and walk their separate ways. She gets into the car, turns on the radio, stops at a classic rock song from her youth. She drives slowly around the tree lined campus. A bittersweet smile crosses her face. “To a new beginning,” she says and cranks up the volume.
He carries the last packing box into his twin bed dorm room. The lone fan circulates hot air.
Thirsty, he opens the fridge “What? There’s nothing in here!” he cries.
Welcome to the Real World.