Getting ready to send my son to college a few summers ago, I felt excited to see him start a new chapter of his life, but felt sad about the prospect of no longer sharing nightly meals or daily conversations with him. While dealing with such feelings, parents may find it hard to help their child focus on the tasks they need to complete before they leave for campus in the fall. Because many of these tasks involve finances, however, parental support is essential. Here are some items to talk about with your child before they starts college in the fall.
Paying College Bills
Most colleges no longer mail paper bills. Instead, they send bills to a secure online student portal a month or two before the start of each semester. Information about the student’s financial aid award is also available here. Keep in mind that the bill will be reduced only by the gift aid that the student received, if any. Students will still need to apply for loans through their financial aid office and earn work-study awards once they get to campus.
Students can give parents access to their bill by following the directions on the institution’s website under “student accounts” or “paying bills.” Payments are usually due a month before the next semester begins and it’s important to pay on time to avoid hefty late fees. Most parents pay bills with a check or money order because colleges charge a 2-3% convenience fee for using a credit card. Some parents also use low-cost payment plans to spread college costs over a 10-month period starting as early as May of their child’s senior year of high school. Such plans charge a one-time fee, usually under $100, but no interest. Most institutions provide a link to available payment plans on their websites under “paying for college.”
Most colleges require first-year students living on campus to buy a meal plan. While a few institutions charge a fixed amount for meals, most offer a variety of plans, ranging from 10 to 21 meals per week. Parents need to talk with their child about how many meals they are likely to eat.
The majority of students and families today borrow to help pay for college. Most financial aid award packages include Federal Direct (also called Stafford) student loans. Federal loans have fixed interest rates that are lower than most private loans, making them a preferable option. Parents who need additional funds can choose from an array of loans offered by the federal government, commercial lenders, state agencies, and some colleges. Because interest rates, repayment terms, and eligibility requirements vary greatly, it is critical to compare different options. The College Board has a parent debt calculator to help families determine how much education debt they can afford.
Student Health Insurance
Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, everyone in the United States is required to have health coverage that qualifies as Minimum Essential Coverage. Students under the age of 26 have several different options, like coverage under a parent’s plan, a private health plan through the Marketplace or a catastrophic health plan. For college students, a lot of universities and colleges around the country offer student health insurance plans as an option for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Even if you have access to a student health plan through a university, you can still buy a health plan through the Marketplace.
Textbook expenses vary depending on a student’s major and what courses they end up taking. Students have multiple options for reducing these costs including buying or renting used printed books or using digital books. Because of the high demand for used textbooks, students should buy books as soon as possible after registering for courses. Amazon has helpful information about what’s involved with renting books.
On-campus jobs, including work-study, go fast. Students who want to work on campus should contact their Student Employment Office during the summer and start applying for jobs early. Students should limit their work hours to 15-20 hours a week to have time to keep up with their studies.
Parents can take several steps to make this list of tasks easier to manage. First, they can attend parent workshops held in conjunction with their child’s college orientation program. They can also check their child’s college portal frequently for reminders about deadlines, missing documents, valuable campus resources, and upcoming informational events. While it may never make up for the loss of cherished time together during childhood, actively supporting students throughout the summer before college allows parents to ensure the success of one of the most important transitions in their child’s life.