When you wave goodbye to your college freshman, you’re likely entering a brand new phase of your relationship with your child. In general, this is a time when young adult children need to find ways to become more independent, while parents typically need to adjust to having their child increasingly making his or her own decisions.
If you’re worried about how your child will adjust to college, that’s normal. Three common challenges faced by students (and therefore typical reasons that some parents worry) are:
- Loneliness without old friends
- Concerns about financial aid and paperwork
- Challenges with schoolwork and grades
At this stage of parenting, solutions for the first issue can include helping your child consider clubs and organizations to meet like-minded people and try to limit trips back home while you and your child transition through this home to college life phase.
It can be normal for a young adult to be concerned with financial aid and need some help with paperwork. Parents can be helpful in connecting their children with useful resources on or off campus. One of the ways to meet the challenges of more demanding schoolwork is to encourage the use of tutors.
Related: Student loan calculator
Additional tips for parents of college students
Although each parent-child relationship is unique, and while each parent may face different challenges in parenting a college student, there are similarities in the challenges.
It typically involves knowing how much to let go and encouraging your child to become independent versus how much you should continue to provide support to your child, whether that’s emotional support or financial.
Where that line should be drawn for each child and parent depend upon things like the seriousness of the problems being faced and how temporary or permanent they may be. In general, though, tips include:
- Listening carefully, but trying not to dive right into problem-solving.
- Being mindful about how often you communicate and giving your college student space while also staying available.
- Recognizing that you may not always be kept in the loop. FERPA (Federal Education Records Privacy Act) gives college students new privacy rights that can be defined pretty broadly. You may want to talk to your child about signing a FERPA waiver that will give you more access to information.
Finding the right balance may be more difficult than in generations past, given that students and parents are just one quick text message away from one another.
This can make it easier for parents to jump in and start problem-solving, which can reduce the self-reliance of today’s college students. This, of course, isn’t universally true, but can be a common scenario.
Parenting college students during summer break
Just when you figure out how to parent your child when he or she is away from school, summer break arrives with a different set of challenges. The young adult that you watched leave for college is probably not the same person who is returning.
PsychologyToday.com suggests that the parent-child relationship will likely be “less about being a parent and more about forming a camaraderie and collaborative partnership.”
This can include things like withholding judgment about your child’s actions and making requests rather than demands — even when you’re sure you’re right.
Analyze what rules are the most important and focus on those, letting other ones go. One example is you might ask that he or she call you if dinner will be missed, but not try to impose a curfew.
Recognize that during summer break you’ll probably need to readjust to being together, while also focusing on enjoying your time together.
Conversations about paying for college
As part of your evolving parent-child relationship, you’ll likely find yourself in conversations about the best ways to pay for college, and, as the parent, you’ll likely initiate them. As part of your discussions, you may want to:
Be clear about how much money you’re willing or able to contribute towards your child’s college expenses and how much your child will need to contribute.
- Discuss how much college will cost once you add tuition, housing, books and other expenses together.
- Talk about student loans, including the differences between federal student loans and private student loans.
- Discuss how your child working during college may help pay for expenses.
- Talk about money management and how your child may feel some stress over student loan debt.
First, there are scholarships and grants that usually don’t need to be repaid. What’s left is the amount that typically needs to be paid for by a combination of parental contributions, student contributions and student loans.
The two main types of student loans are federal and private. To qualify for federal student loans, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This form needs to be filled out every year to determine eligibility for federal student aid dollars, including federal student loans.
Federal loans can be subsidized or unsubsidized. Students may be eligible for a subsidized loan if they have a certain degree of financial need. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest during the six-month grace period after graduation/dropping below half-time enrollment and during any loan deferments.
If the student drops below half-time enrollment, the grace period will begin even if he or she has not graduated yet, although there are some circumstances in which the student loan grace period can change.
Unsubsidized federal student loans do not require a demonstration of financial need, but do accrue interest during the entire loan period.
Private student loans are not funded by the government. Your child can apply with individual lenders, and each loan will come with its own terms and conditions, including repayment terms. Private loans can help fill the gap between what your child can pay with scholarships, grants, or federal loans.
Saving for your child’s college
If you’re still saving for your child’s education, your options may include:
529 college savings plans, also called qualified tuition plans, allow you to save for college while potentially offering tax benefits. Money saved in an education savings plan (sponsored by some states) can be used for tuition, fees, room and board and other qualified higher education expenses at a college or university. Prepaid tuition plans (available at some universities) offer the option to prepay tuition and fees at current rates.
- Traditional or Roth IRAs, although more commonly used to save and invest for retirement, can be used to save for college expenses.
- Coverdell Education Savings Accounts allow you to set up an account to pay for qualified education expenses, but contributions are not tax-deductible and are only available for people whose income falls under certain limits.
- Uniform Gifts to Minors Act or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act accounts are intended as a savings vehicle for beneficiaries under the age of 18. Depending upon your state, the funds will transfer to your child at either age 18 or 21 and do not have to be used for education expenses.
When it’s tax time, if you claim your college-age child as a dependent, you might qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit during the first four years of his or her undergraduate education.
This is a credit for tuition and other qualified education expenses worth up to $2,500 per eligible student and could reduce the filer’s tax bill, not their taxable income.
The Lifetime Learning Credit is also a tax credit but can be harder to qualify for. Each year, you can claim either the AOTC or the LLC, but not both. SoFi provides more information about both of these credits and more.
Parent student loans
You may be able to take out loans for your child’s education expenses, including a federal Parent PLUS Loan, available to parents of dependent undergraduate students for the number of attendance costs minus other financial aid. Private lenders may also be an option.
Fees, rates and repayment options vary by lender and they don’t typically offer forbearance or deferment options like federal loans do. As another option, you may be able to co-sign a private student loan with your child.
In the interest of transparency, we believe you should explore all federal options first.
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