Ready for What’s Next? A Guide for Parents of College-Bound Kids

College can be scary and confusing for both kids and parents. Here's a guide for parents on preparing their kids for what is yet to come.

At first they coo and smile. Crawl, walk, then run.

So many milestones later you find yourself waving goodbye to your children. And with your heart pounding in your chest, you see them take off and drive on their own for the first time. Your image shrinks in their rearview mirror and their open road journey begins.

Fast forward to their senior year in high school. Our babies not yet ready to fly, but practically inching their way out of the nest. With college up ahead, what’s a parent to do when it comes to this next milestone in their lives? Let them fly free? Or hold on to their tiny wings and guide them along the way?

There’s so much to learn -— and enough paperwork and guidebooks to make one feel overwhelmed. But take it one step at a time. Just like you did when you eagerly (or through bleary eyes) devoured those baby books. And with a large dose of intuition, you and your baby made it. You will make it again.

While I’m in that bleary-eyed stage now with a nearly 5-year-old and nearly 1-year-old, I’m looking 13 years ahead, too, at where many fellow moms and dads are right now. I’m inspired by what I see in parents, such as Lynne Lobeck who is preparing her daughter, Cassidy, 17, to go to Albion College

“She wants to be an anesthesiologist. She wants to make something out of her life and wants to make the money that fits her lifestyle,” she says.

Lobeck says to prepare for the next phase, parents should ensure that they always encourage their children to apply themselves, get good grades and learn everything they can from the teachers.

“We have always stressed to Cassidy about getting good grades and helped her in any way we could.”

The hardest part for Lobeck is not knowing all the new skills and technology that her daughter will be learning in school.

“Things were so different when we were growing up,” Lobeck says. “I would tell parents that Google is their best friend.”

First steps

While preparing for college, the first step Lobeck took was to apply for all applicable grants.

“There are tons of them out there that we don’t even know about,” she says. “Go to the school that best fits your (child’s) career and the college that’s offering the most. I have stressed many times not to have a big debt after graduating because it seems like you’re paying on loans for the rest of your life.”

Franklin-based college advisor Eva McGregor Dodds, an affiliate of Collegewise, says that by senior year many students already know the path they want to take and are applying to college/trade school, and beyond, in the fall. A helpful nudge can be beneficial.

“Students may need some guidance in exploring careers and their own strengths,” Dodds says, adding that some helpful college tools include the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which offers a Pathfinder Toolkit for students and parents, and MItradeschool.com, which offers career exploration.

She stresses families should also discuss the education budget early on.

“Is there a set amount of money set aside for students’ education? Will students be paying for their own education?” Dodds says. “Use that conversation as a starting point to explore the price of post-secondary paths.”

Look at the college financial aid websites and make use of the tools they offer to help families understand the costs.

Dodds also recommends parents do not allow students to pursue dreams that will hobble them with debt.

Judith Stahl, assistant director of College Counseling, says parents can act as the support system as a student progresses through the college application process, allowing the student to essentially “drive the car” but have their parents as their passenger to ask for help should they need it.

“During this time of uncertainty and ever-changing landscape, parents can assist students by providing the necessary technological resources. Parents are also invaluable in encouraging students to continue their research online, and to meet with their counselor to ask questions,” she says.

Stahl also strongly encourages parents and students to set up a meeting with their school college counselor to find out internal deadlines and attend senior class information sessions.

Clinton Township mom Leslie Perrine’s daughter, Lynnea, 17, a valedictorian, will be attending college locally. The family has the tuition and paperwork out of the way and spoke to a counselor for her classes. But Perrine says it’s important for parents to prepare themselves emotionally for their child to leave for college, too.

“I haven’t actually experienced my child going away, I had to prepare my mind and my heart to let her go,” she says.

She recommends two things, instill in them confidence to do it and take things day by day.

“There are some things that are out of our control. The fact we’re not sure from day to day what’s going to happen I want her to not have anxiety over it. She’s taking it one step at a time.”

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