What should parents of college students know before and during their child's college years?

As parents of college students, you have probably run into things that may have surprised you. Maybe your college student is having a hard time deciding what they want to major in.

Don't let this surprise you too much. Many college students change their major a couple times (sometimes even 3 to 4 times) before deciding what they finally want to do.

parents graduate
Maybe you are concerned with the cost of tuition and how your student is going to pay it.

Or, perhaps you have found out the inconvenient truth that you cannot access your student's school records just because you are their parent (this is thanks to the FERPA Act, which we will talk about later in this article).

I am going to cover some of the major things that parents of college students ought to know while having a child in college. I am also going to share some advice from actual parents who have had 5 of their kids go to college.

What Every College Student's Parent Should Know...

There are some things that parents of college students should know. The first of these is about your student. They are grown adults and have to now make decisions for themselves. They have to learn how to handle difficult situations and challenges.

Let them. It won't hurt them.

The more you try and make decisions for them, the less dedicated they will be to completing their schooling. They have to want to do it. This is why changing their major shouldn't be too alarming to you. If they change it to something they'll like more, it's okay!

Sure, you still need to counsel and offer advice and encouragement. Helping them see that a particular major may not provide the kind of lifestyle that they want gives them a long term perspective.

But, this kind of advice should happen anyway because you are their parent.

It is still up to your student to decide what they want to do.

My parents, who have been parents of college students for about 11 years now, have never forced their ideas of what they thought I should do on me. They helped me get the information I needed and then left the decisions up to me.

This kind of help and advice was very enabling. It created an environment of trust between my parents and me. This made me feel like I could come back to them for advice in the future, and I have.

But, it wouldn't have been that way if they tried to force me to go to a specific school or make me major in something I didn't want to.

There is something else that parents of college students need to know. This is something that I ran into all the time while working at the registrar's office. This has to do with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

In short, the student can determine who and who doesn't have access to their educational records. If you want access to their transcripts and such, you'll need to get their permission.

What do I need to know about access to my student's educational records and FERPA?

Maybe you have already had experience with this one. You might already know how unyielding the record's office is at your college student's university.

Angry College Student
Don't get upset with them. That is part of their job. By law, they have to be sticklers with student information. They must comply with FERPA.

This means that parents, spouses, siblings, uncles, grandparents, aunts, cousins, roommates, friends, etc., cannot access the student's records without the student's written permission.

However, there is a way to be able to access your student's information.

But, let me just add in here (and this should be common sense) that if you don't absolutely need access to your student's records (say if your student was out of the country and for one reason or another couldn't register), then don't feel like you need to get access to them.

It isn't a difficult process to get the access (as long as your student will agree), but why go through all the trouble if you don't need to? If your student can do it by themselves, without your help, then let them.

Still, if your student needs your help registering, or help with other school issues, it is absolutely essential to get your student's permission. This can be done by having your student fill out a Student Information Release form.

This form can be found at the university's records office and most likely in a pdf file on the records office webpage of the school's website.

You just need to find it, print it out, have your student fill it out and sign it, and then the student needs to send the original form to the school and give a copy to you.

Then, make sure you hang onto your copy. Make sure you always have it somewhere you can find it. If you lose it, then you will have to do this process all over again.

Also, make sure to bring it with you every time you go on campus because you will need to bring your copy to show at the records office.

What about tuition costs and student finances?

There are some things that parents of college students ought to know about the costs of going to school. As I'm sure you're aware, tuition isn't cheap. You must also consider textbooks, fees, room & board, transportation, and other monthly expenses.

As parents of college students, something to instantly help your students with tuition expense is to consider in-state colleges and universities before out-of-state.

While it is your student's decision as to where they will attend, you can help them consider in-state colleges and universities because of the huge difference in tuition cost.

Tuition can literally be four times the cost for an out of state resident than an in state resident.

Check your state's specific "residency for tuition" requirements for more information about the difference between who is considered an "in-state resident" & an "out of state resident".

Something else that parents of college students can do to help their child in college is to help them establish a monthly budget. Start by helping them consider a few things:

Where will your money be coming from?
-Grants, loans, scholarships, family, work, etc.

What are you going to need every week outside of school?
-Food, apartment, cell phone, internet, transportation,etc.

How much will each of these things cost per week or per month?
When will the bills be paid during the month?

A budget doesn't have to be super involved for your college student, but it should be something that they can handle and have control over.

Your job as parents of college students is to help them set it up. Then, they must take responsibility for following it.

College Student Decisions
Working is something that each college student has to decide if they want to do. Looking at when they want to be finished wtih school and how many credits they want to take per semester/term should be seriously considered before deciding whether or not to get a job.

What should I know about the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is something that parents of college students need to know about because it is figured into the FAFSA and whether the student is eligible for federal financial aid or not.

The student may also have to report parent information based upon whether they live at home unless they are an "independent" student (or don't live at home). How much the family is going to help the student is where this comes into play.

If you haven't already determined how much the family will be helping your student, it is time to talk with him or her about it. Try and do this before school starts.

Not only can this help the student know what to expect, but it can also help to avoid confusion and frustration in the future.

If the EFC is high on the FAFSA your student may still qualify for financial aid, but it will most likely be loans. It may not be as ideal as a Pell grant, but it is something.

Some ways to lower the EFC are:

-The number of family members living at the same house as the student
-The number of siblings in college at the same time
-The lower the income of the student and parents
-The lower the assets of the student

Parents of college students shouldn't look at this as a to do list! Perhaps there are some adjustments you can make to help your student qualify for financial aid. But if not, don't make huge adjustments to your life to try to qualify.

Advice From Experts

My own parents have been parents of college students for about 11 years now (in 2011). Knowing how much they have helped my siblings and me through school, I thought it would be helpful to get their input.

I posed the same question to both my dad and mom at separate times. I asked, "what advice would you have for new parents of college students?" My dad sent me an email that sums up both of their answers nicely. You can read it below. It is good advice for parents of college students and college students alike:

"Well....it depends a lot on where your student is at that point and how seriously he or she has taken education to that point. The first thing I would tell them is that the decision to attend and apply themselves rests squarely on their shoulders. Once your tuition is paid, no one at the university really cares whether you attend class or not. They hope you do but have no time to keep track of whether you're there. There are no requirements to bring a note from home after missing a class. Nor are there any chances of being marked tardy or absent. But there are consequences! It is a rare person who can study a little bit and show up for the final exam and actually do well. Don't try to be that person. Throughout their educational experience thus far, they have hopefully been learning how to be responsible - to attend and pay attention, to complete assignments, and to be responsible for the requirements the class imposes. They're in prime time now and that's what it requires!

"Secondly, I would encourage them to think carefully about two things: 1) if earning an adequate living were no object, what would they absolutely love to do for a living? And 2) what profession or occupation would be most likely to provide them with their desired level of income in order to ensure a comfortable living? If those two answers are the same, Bingo!! They've just determined what they will study and what will be their life's work. Generally it isn't quite that easy. Once they have answered those two questions, then the bargaining begins! How far away are they willing to move from what they would absolutely love to do in order to earn a desired level of income? How far away from their desired level of income are they willing to move in order to do something they really love?

"Lastly, I would tell them that it's all for real now. Real money is being spent and the most important thing they can do in college is apply themselves to the best of their ability. There is always room in the world for people who have proven that they can do things well."

I left this email the exact way he originally wrote it because I think the way he says it will benefit parents of college students much better than anything else I could add to it.

In conclusion...

All in all, it is important to remember that parents of college students remember that it is the ultimate responsibility of the college student to make something of their time in college.

Paying college tuition
Deciding where to go to school and what to major in are both the decision of the student. Giving them your opinion and advice is your responsibility as a parent (especially if you are helping them pay for college), of course, but they must be the ones to decide.

Allowing them to make their own decisions (even if they are not always what you would consider the wisest) are what they need to learn to do to be successful in life after college (because hopefully college doesn't take them forever).

After all, college is not the end, but a means to a new beginning of the rest of your student's life.

Want more information about how to help your college student financially? Leave "parents of college students" and go to "college student finances"

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