by Robert Martin
It’s August already, and that means that school is here. In addition to all of the college preparations for students and parents alike, let me offer some helpful tips that might make the transition a bit easier.
Top 5 Tips for First Time College Students:
5.) Look for scholarships. Attempts to balance overdrawn state and federal budgets have caused the government to lower the maximum household income amounts eligible to receive free aid for school. This means that not as many students are going to have access to the aid they need to help pay for school. A useful way that students can overcome this financial gap is by looking for private and institutional scholarships as well as student grants. Online resources such as www.scholarships.com and www.collegeboard.com offer thousands of links to scholarship opportunities for college students. Students who are passionate about music, the arts, sports, social justice, activism, and a host of other activities can reap real benefits by turning these into scholarship earning opportunities. Though very few students can escape college without taking some kind of educational loans, seeking out grant and scholarship opportunities allows students to have access to free money that can help fund their schooling and minimize their debt load when they graduate.
4.) Get academic help. Good grades are harder to get in college than in high school. To bring your “A” game, you might have to look for help in areas that you are struggling academically. If math, science, or writing is not your strong suit, seek out fellow students who are doing well, and simply ask them for help. College is a place where students live, grow, and learn in community. Some of the strongest friendships that a student can build are often found in late night study group sessions with classmates. Also, many universities offer academic support centers staffed with tutors who are paid to help people struggling with specific subjects. There is no shame in making the most of these services. Maintaining good grades in college can pay off at graduation when you find yourself in a better job position than those who didn’t put in the time, dedication, and hard work.
3.) Don’t be afraid of “the questions!” There are two inevitable questions asked of all college students: “What is your major?” and “What is your plan after college?” Like many of you, I hate those questions! If you are coming out of high school and have no idea what you want to do in the future, that’s ok! College is about discovering who you are, identifying your passions, and pursuing a course of study that helps you reach your set goals. The best thing that you could do is to make a list of a few subjects that you think you might be interested in. Take a few classes in those subject areas, and go from there. While in school, look for internships that will give you hands on experience in a given field. If necessary, start at a junior college and transfer into a four-year university after that. Bottom line, the degree is your most valuable asset in the job market. Companies are looking for people who have the drive to study, work, and finish what they start.
2.) Meet new people. Stepping out into college is an exciting time in a person’s life. It is a chance to move on from childhood and into a new world of possibilities. However, this change can also be an emotional one. Sad to say, many of the friendships that are formed in high school are not always able to last through the college years. Certainly, you will stay close with your best friends through Facebook, Twitter, or Skype, but for the most part, you’ll find that people begin to spread out to pursue their own life goals. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The worst thing that any new college student can do is stay in the high school mentality that separates everyone into groups and is highly focused on popularity. See this new chapter in your life as a chance to branch out, experience new things, make new friends, and redefine who you are.
1.) Sleep! With your newfound freedom, don’t forget this most precious commodity. I will never forget my first night at college: my parents video chatting me, and after looking at the clock, asking me why I wasn’t asleep at such a late hour (10 o’clock). Now, let’s be real, all college students know that they will probably never be in bed by 10 again ever in their life. But, it is important to realize how much better students are able to perform when they have had a good night’s rest. I realize that college is busy. Procrastination will happen. Parties will happen. Pulling all nighters to finish 30 page papers will happen. However, in the midst of all the wonderful excitement that is college, leave time for healthy food, regular exercise, and good sleep. Trust me, it will pay off in the end!
Top 5 Tips for The Parents of First Time College Students:
For many parents, this will be the first year that they will have a son or daughter in college. Aside from the increased financial demands of paying for college, having a child leave home is quite an emotional event. I am the oldest in my family, and I have to admit, it was really hard for my parents to see me leave their house and begin making my own way. Here are some tips to help make this a smooth transition.
5.) Beware Anticipated Family Contribution. When filling out FAFSAs and applying for financial aid, it is important to remember that the government evaluates not only what you have in total cash savings and income, but also land ownership and investment portfolios as well. When looking at need-based scholarship applications, these numbers can skew the data and disqualify students from obtaining the aid they might need. FAFSA forms can be complicated to fill out. It is easy to make mistakes that could end up costing you. I would suggest that before filling out FAFSA forms, you sit down and meet with whoever prepares your taxes so that you can ensure complete accuracy. Speaking from personal experience, a few transposed numbers can mean the difference between qualification and disqualification for much needed free aid.
4.) Social Media. If you’re not connected on Facebook, Skype or any other networking sites yet, you should really consider it. In a world where instant communication, status updates, text messages, and video chatting are fast becoming the new norm, social media can prove to be one of the best ways to stay in quick contact with students. Now, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, because when my parents both got Facebook, I thought it was the end of the world. However, outlets such as Facebook and Skype are valuable, especially for parents whose children are going to school far from home. In my experience, a well timed call, chat, or text message from my parents has been just what I needed, especially in those times where schoolwork is tough and I’m missing home.
3.) Split Costs. College is the perfect opportunity to shift some payment responsibilities over to your children. Yet, again I can’t believe I’m saying this, but having to pay for groceries, books, clothes, and incidentals was the best thing that my parents could have done for me during school. I have to admit, when I got to college, I was shocked to see how much the cost of living truly is. I vividly remember humbly calling my dad on the phone one night, after grocery shopping, and apologizing for all the times I complained because he and mom had “forgotten” to buy me all of the things “I just had to have.” Teaching students how to run a budget will set them up for future success, as they have the opportunity to take a realistic look at the balance between income, expenditures, and the value of hard work.
2.) Holiday cheer. Students and parents alike find the first holiday or vacation time with their children back at home can be unnerving. As parents and children begin to develop lives and schedule separate from one another, there are times where it can be hard to integrate back into the family routine. My suggestion for making holidays and summer breaks the best that they can be is to take the time to talk with your returning college student and reach an agreement on the rules of the house that they are returning to. Clearly laying down expectations for issues such as curfew (if you choose to still have one), friends at the house, family gatherings, and housework can help to ease tension and build stronger relationships between you and your son or daughter.
1.) Listen. I have observed that true, intentional listening can be very hard for both parents and their children to engage in, especially during the college years. Years of true-life experience clash with passionate youthful ambition, and the end results are often heated arguments, hurt feelings and broken relationships. Believe it or not, you’re children do care what you have to say. Your wisdom and insight are invaluable as they maneuver through the course of life. However, they do want to know that you care what they have to say as well. It may sound naive, ill-prepared, and just plain ridiculous, but allowing them to share their heart, without the impulse of jumping in and offering immediate solutions and advice can help to build their respect for you. Eventually, when they realize that you really do know what you’re talking about, they will come around and welcome your well-placed words of advice.