A first time parent’s perspective navigating the college experience

leaving_for_college_sign_408514939.jpgI knew the time was coming, and I heard the stories- sending my baby off to college was looming in front of me, a bit like a ticking time bomb.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little…but the thought of sending my 18 year old daughter to live at a facility away from home did definitely come with a share of anxiety and trepidation. How could this child, who couldn’t remember to set her alarm clock for four years straight of high school, possibly survive on a campus on her own?

And that was just the beginning. Then came the college selection process with its endless tours and school comparison discussions, applications, acceptances (that was the fun part!), and making that final decision.

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Once decisions were made, the fun really started happening, and it got real, really quick. How do we pay for this? What are our options? How do we sign up for meal plans, pay for keeping a vehicle on campus, rent a mini fridge? I felt like I needed a personal contact at the campus just for my never ending questions. Yes, we attended orientation, but there were still so many gaps in the information we received and managing it all became a part time job.  

So, I started thinking- what would make the experience smoother, more efficient and easier for a first time parent putting their child through college? By the time I was done, I was on a first name basis with Student Accounts, Financial Aid and Admissions- and while I enjoyed our conversations, I am sure they could have done with a few dozen less phone calls from me.

  1. Communication- In the early weeks after our acceptance deposit was made we received unending communication from the school, in multiple forms (and it’s still coming). It was overwhelming. Having one consistent communication method (paper, or email) would have made it easier to manage important information. (Personally, I preferred the email: easy to store, harder to lose, easy to share and easy to refer back to!)
  1. Making it clear to the student that they are the responsible party: Just out of high school, my child was accustomed to the school communicating with the parent as the main source of information and communication. College is different, and she was not prepared. She simply assumed that since I was managing payment of the bills, that any communications she received from the college were duplicated to her parents- and she was wrong. She had no idea how to make me an authorized user on her account so I could view charges, or that she should forward important email communications to me for review or discussion.
  1. Easy access to functions on websites: Once we figured out the authorized user bit, I wanted to be able to pay a bill online, view financial aid awards, or adjust a payment after adding a meal plan,and being able to log in during my lunch break was a life saver.
  • FAQs- as a first time parent, my student and I needed a lot of information, and we had to call the school so many (really, so many) times to get it. Great information to be able to find quickly on a website might include: 
    • How to pay the bill (and a link to a payment portal!)
    • Concise, informative student account pages- These should show the charges accrued, provide due date information, options to pay, self help and self service options
    • Financial aid- How we were going to pay the bill was of high importance and a list of avenues through which I could review loan options, or websites that list loan options would be oh, so helpful. A listing of possible payment plans and payment options on the school website really helps, too.
    • Easy, clear access: Especially to the student account where they could manage their personal information, change their meal plan, add a class, drop a class, pay a bill- this was so hard to find on the school’s website.

The first year experience is about to start in reality with drop off day in early September, and all these “firsts” will be a thing of the past. Here is to starting a new chapter!

 

 

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