You’ve Been Accepted Now What
Twelve years of primary education have come and gone. Your young adult is about to leave the nest to head off to college. If this is your first child to head off to school, you may be at a loss as to where to start. A year ago I was nearly clueless as to how to get the process started after those acceptance letters started rolling in. While we are thrilled for our children, we are secretly unsure as to what we need to do next as parents. Below is a listing of simple tips which I hope will guide parents through the “now what” period from acceptance letter to first day on campus.
- It’s helpful to file your federal income tax return as soon as possible. Certain information from your tax return will be used to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA will help determine how much money in financial aid your student may be eligible. You’ll have time to go back and make any corrections to the FAFSA, but it’s always a good idea to have it right from the get-go. FAFSA’s can be filed any time after January 1st of each year.
- After you file the FAFSA, look out for the Student Aid Report (SAR) from the Department of Education. The SAR is a very important document because it will include the expected family contribution (EFC). In other words, the total amount of money you may have to pay. The college will use the SAR to prepare a custom financial aid package (Award Letter) based on the types of aid for which your student is eligible.
- As with any bill, pay any amount due before the due date to ensure that your child’s registration is complete.
- Maintain official copies of your student’s high school transcript and/or a copy of the actual diploma. The college will likely want verification that your child did in fact graduate.
- Consider providing your student with his own checking account with debit card. By having the checking account linked directly to your account, you can see where the money is being spent. You also instill a sense of responsibility because your child will see how the purchases directly affect his bank account. Let your child learn responsibility by paying some bills directly out of the checking account. Also, a linked checking account makes it easier for you to transfer money in the event of an emergency or, more likely, when his funds run low.
- While the CARD Act provided additional protections to college students, it is still possible for your child to establish a credit account in his name. This should be discouraged at all costs. Negative information generally remains on the credit file for seven years. It would be a shame for your student’s credit rating to be adversely affected before he is even out of school due to a possible late or missed payment.
- Restrict unnecessary credit purchases during the time that your child is in school. You never know when you may need to step in, i.e. co-sign as guarantor, etc., so you want to make sure your credit is pristine so that you can help if needed.
- Your student is likely 18 years or older so keep in mind that the colleges will treat them like the young adults that they are. This means, unless your child expressly grants you permission, you generally will not be able to view his grades, call and receive information about particular matters, etc. The school views your child as an adult and his information is treated as confidential unless you are expressly given access.
- Undoubtedly, you will be hit with some unplanned fee for excessive utilities, room damage, late checkout, etc., so always keep extra dollars on hand. It will happen to you.
- It may be helpful to buy books after classes have started. While we all want to rush out and make sure he has everything that is needed before the start of classes, it may be a good idea to wait and confirm with the instructor that all the listed materials are actually needed.
- If you decide to go the student loan route, know that there are two categories: a “student” student loan and a “parent” student loan. Payments on the former are generally deferred until the student graduates; however, parent student loan payments generally begin six months after the loan is granted. So, the parent student loan payments are due almost immediately while the student’s loan payments are deferred until after graduation (subject to certain exceptions).
- If you decide to give him a car to drive, for insurance purposes, know that the student only has to be associated with “a” car. In other words, if you have more than one car on your insurance, it is best to add the student to the cheaper car in the policy. He can drive any car on the policy, but it will save you money if you add him to the least expensive car rather than the most expensive car (even if that is the one that he will be primarily driving).
This list is by no means all inclusive but I hope that it will help you navigate the next phase of your and your child’s life- the college years. Lastly, keep in mind that every first day experience will be different. I heard others talk about how it was a blissful day, a leisurely drive up, great meeting of the roommates and roommates’ family. For me, it was anything but! Our first day experience was filled with the normal chaos and fussing that is my family. Nonetheless, we got my student off to school and successfully navigated through that crucial first year. Do I have more gray hair now, you bet. Is it all worth it, absolutely!
 Masculine tense used throughout for ease of writing only.