You just read the headline and are probably thinking, “It’s October! Why do I need to start thinking about college now?” Because there’s lots to do and it’s never too early to plan ahead. Of course, if you have a freshman or even a sophomore at home, you do have a little bit more time. But if you’re homeschooling a junior or senior, it’s time to get moving! Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done…but we’re here to help.
First step? Research, research, research. Actually, let’s take a step even further back. Before you start researching, talk to your son or daughter–not while he or she is playing on the phone or doing homework or watching TV. An actual sit-down, heart-to-heart, attention-undivided conversation that involves questions such as:
- What do you want to be when you grow up? Or, in adult-speak…what kind of career and/or interests do you want to pursue and study in college?
- How far away from home do you want to be? Or…do you want to live at home? (You may have some conflicting feelings about that one.)
- You better get a scholarship because I can’t afford that school. OK, maybe that’s one for the adults in the house to discuss. But it’s a legit concern–college tuition seems to grow exponentially from year to year.
Once you’ve talked through these questions with your teenager, you can at least form a foundation and a starting point for your research. For example, if your daughter wants to study marine biology, a college in, say, Kansas, probably isn’t ideal. Might want to shift the direction of your research toward California or Florida. Or another state with a coastline.
Let’s say you’ve had a discussion with your son, and he wants to major in business. Now you know where to focus your search–schools with reputable business schools and programs. College Navigator, operated by the National Center for Education Statistics, boasts an excellent search engine that allows you to plug in a desired location, programs and majors of interest, and other more specific fields that can help you and your student narrow down the list. There are plenty of other effective college search sites to dive into–U.S. News and World Report provides a nice top 10 list.
Next–and this is something that can be gradually worked into any regular day–is to teach essential life skills. Some kids are just born with that “street savvy”…they inherently know how to do certain tasks and how to figure things out on their own. Others, not so much. Trust me, I know. I have one of those. But the thing is, he or she is going to be out on their own, alone in the real world. And the real world doesn’t have the time or patience for those who lack basic survival skills. The good news is, it’s not too late! Get your kids started on some of these tasks now, and they’ll have them mastered by the time they’re off to school.
- Laundry: Easy to do, kids still screw it up. Teach your teen how to sort and separate, how much detergent to use, what each wash cycle means (wait…it relates to the tags on my clothes?? No way!), what goes in the dryer and at what temperature, how to fold and iron if necessary. Sounds simple, but you’d be shocked at how many kids freeze and panic in front of a washing machine. It’s also a good idea to teach some basic safety features, like…don’t overload the washer, make sure to clean the dryer vent before each use, things like that.
- The Basics of Cooking: I’m not saying you need to teach your kid how to make ratatouille, but he or she should probably know how to put together a pot of mac and cheese, grill a burger, and make an omelet. Yes, this involves some stove and oven safety, and knowing how to read recipes, but…they’re teenagers, right? They should have a handle on this by now. Of course, there are some easy meal solutions like microwaveable dinners (or microwaveable anything) and soups. And the old college stand-bys like canned beef-a-roni and ramen noodles still do the trick. But knowing how to at least cook the basics gives your soon-to-be-college student a leg up when they’re out on their own.
- How to Shop: Sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s actually not. Sure, anyone can shop blindly. But not everyone knows how to shop intelligently. The thing with most college kids is, they’re broke. Especially for the first year, or until they’re able to find the right balance between schoolwork and a job. So, being able to shop smart is an important life skill to have. And it’s also kind of fun…there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you’re able to score an awesome deal. Or maybe it’s just me.
But shopping smart isn’t just about saving money, it’s about knowing what to buy. If your student will be living in a dorm, there won’t be quite as much to buy since most of the basics are already provided–but your teen will need sheets, blankets, pillows, toiletries, cleaning supplies (though depending on your child, these might wind up becoming optional), and food. If he or she is living off-campus, however, that’s a whole different ball game. Now they have an entire apartment to furnish–on top of all that other stuff they’d buy for the dorm. This is where shopping smart comes in–looking for deals on furniture at consignment shops; bargain prices for small appliances on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or Offer Up; sales on kitchen gadgets, bathroom necessities, and similar items at discount stores like Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond. Function over fashion, until you can afford otherwise.
Finally, there’s time management. Whether your teen will be living at home or on campus, he or she will have plenty to do. A full slate of classes, hours of studying, extracurricular activities, newfound friends and socializing, possibly a job. Not to mention, if they’re living on their own, there are chores to do and bills to pay. It’s like they’re…real adults! The problem is, they haven’t been living like adults because…well…they’re kids. But adulthood will sneak up on them quickly, and kids need to be prepared for all that it requires.
Even with all of these things to do, there will still be only 24 hours in a day and only so much time to get it all done. Now’s the perfect time to teach time management. Sure, they might not have as much going on as they will in a year or two, but this is where you can help fill in their calendars a bit. Give them extra jobs around the house, have them cook dinner (two birds with one stone!) a couple nights a week, and make them responsible for buying groceries (three birds!). Adding that to their school, homework, after-school activities, friends, family life, and work suddenly makes their days pretty adult-like. You’re an adult with real-life experience, so impart some parental wisdom upon your child by sharing a few of the tips and strategies you use every day. There are also some helpful websites that offer time management skills specifically for kids and teens. They’ll thank you later in life.
It sounds like a lot to cover, but you’ve done all of it yourself, so your son or daughter can definitely handle it as well. Bridgeway Academy can help your student get a bit of a head start, too. Our dual-enrollment classes give high school students the opportunity to earn a full year’s worth of college credits while they’re still in high school! Bridgeway offers more than 40 fully accredited college-level courses, all taught by actual college professors, to give students a taste of college education–while they earn credits they can put toward college upon graduation. If your student starts our dual-enrollment program during junior year, he or she can even earn an associate’s degree upon high school graduation!
Prepping for college is an exciting time–not just for your child but for the whole family. Enjoy the experience while helping your freshman-to-be figure out where he or she wants to be and teaching them invaluable skills along the way.