9 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Freshman Year

By Dennis Mulato

It's hard to believe, but the time has come: your child is about to become a college freshman! This is a significant transition for your family. As a parent, you're likely experiencing a slew of emotions—from anxiety and sadness to excitement and pride.

Over their freshman year, students encounter new opportunities and challenges. They must learn to manage their own schedules, navigate larger classes and tackle long-term academic projects without consistent monitoring from parents and teachers.

What can you do to ensure your kid is fully prepared? Helping your child excel in college is a balancing act between being supportive and letting go as your son or daughter gains independence.

Although each family's situation is unique, specific strategies can ease the transition. Here are nine ways you can help your child during this important time.

  1. Keep track of relevant information. These days, most communication happens through an online student portal account on the college website. Help your student make a habit of regularly logging in and checking college email. This will help them stay up to date on time-sensitive information related to housing, orientation and course registration.
  2. Share practical, hands-on skills. Does your child might still rely on you for help with everyday tasks like doing laundry, filling prescription medication, getting the oil changed, handling credit card bills and cooking meals? Think about what tasks your child will need to accomplish independently at college, and give them a chance to practice these skills before leaving home.
  3. Discuss a budget.Learning how to manage money is one of the most important skills you can share with your almost-grown-up child. Make time to discuss a monthly budget and set expectations for how your student will pay for personal expenses and books. Do you want your child to have a job during school? Will they be expected to make their own car payments? Talk through these questions as a family so everyone has a clear idea of what to expected.
  4. Research financial aid options. For many families, college expenses can seem overwhelming. To accurately assess college costs and financial aid offers, check out this helpful comparison tool from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can use it to graph how much debt you or your student may accumulate by graduation. You can also make an appointment with the college's financial aid office to discuss your options in person.
  5. Encourage your child to get involved in student organizations. Joining a student organization can help your child expand their horizons, discover strengths, make friends quicker and connect to a larger community. Ask your child what interests them, whether it's joining the sailing team, singing in a choir or volunteering with a nonprofit, there will likely be opportunities for them to explore their interests on campus.
  6. Explore campus resources. Help your child become their own self-advocate. Make sure your child knows what resources are available, like the counseling and health centers, the financial aid office and tutoring support services.
  7. Talk about safety. Sadly, the news media isn't short on headlines detailing underage drinking and sexual assault on college campuses. Discussing these issues with your child can be a helpful step. It's important for students to be self-aware and take safety precautions as they enter a new social environment.
  8. Shop for supplies and dorm décor. From a mini fridge to a shower caddy, there are various supplies your student will need their first semester. Shopping together can be an exciting stepping stone and bonding experience.
  9. Learn how to let go. You love your child and want the best for them, but giving him or her a certain degree of independence is also important. In fact, research shows that students with hovering “helicopter" parents are more likely to be medicated for anxiety and/or depression. Giving your kid some freedom can help them experience greater levels of well-being and become more confident and self-reliant. Although students will still need help from time to time, they'll also benefit from learning healthy coping and problem-solving skills on their own.

Looking to the Future

Transitioning to life after high school is sometimes a bumpy ride. Knowing when to intervene or encourage your child's independence is not always easy. Embracing this new chapter of life is a learning experience for both children and parents. By planning ahead and communicating about issues as a family, you can mentor your child and help them create a fulfilling and productive life at college.

Put your child on the path to success. Learn how SmartBook® can help your student maximize their study time and achieve their goals.