Next month my eldest heads off to school in Europe. While this sounds complex the sheer enormity of this undertaking has forced me to plan far in advance to ensure that the bases are all covered. It’s a very exciting time and as many of my friends are also going through the process of getting their children out the door to college I thought a checklist might be of help to keep the insanity at reasonable levels.
Tuition, Room and Board
Right after your son or daughter accepts an invitation to a college or university, you should establish several online accounts:
- Open an online “parent” account with the college to pay for tuition and fees.
- Open a joint bank account at a local bank in your kid’s college town, and make sure you have online access.
- See if the town or college offers “College Cash” — it’s easy to budget and usually has discounts.
- Get a debit and credit card for your child. The debit card should be for regular expenses from their checking account and the credit card should be for occasional use to build a good credit history/score.
- Talk to your kid about his or her credit report (FICO score). Emphasize the importance of paying bills on time and avoiding interest charges for late payments.
- Establish a monthly budget with your kid, determining personal expenses versus parent-covered-expenses ahead of time.
- Research the school’s meal plan to determine its flexibility.
- Remember to start using your Education IRA and 529 College Savings Plan monies.
There’s a LOT to buy
Shopping for school supplies can be time consuming and stressful, especially when your child is attending an out-of-state school or (gasp) overseas. How does one get all the bedroom supplies to school? Interestingly enough, Bed, Bath and Beyond has a program called Pack and Hold. You simply scan all the items you want at your local store, order them there (or order online), and then pick them up at your destination; with no shipping costs or hassles! For those children headed to college in the States this is a godsend.
- Make sure you know what size bed the dorm room has (most are Twin XL).
- Research buying versus renting books. If a new version comes out, the sell back value will be very low, so you may save money renting.
- If you decide to buy books from a store, wait until after the first day of class. Not all professors use the books on their lists, so you might be able to skip a few. Furthermore, the library might have copies.
- Are there any e-book options for text books?
- Can you buy/sell books with other students to save the cost of a retail markup?
- Find out what kind of laptop your child will need and consider buying it from a reliable source that includes repair and maintenance services.
- See if the school has a computer store with student discounts.
- Do you hope to Skype with your child? Be sure the laptop has a camera or buy them a webcam.
Setting Up The Room
- Take a small tool kit for assembling furniture, hanging pictures, connecting cables and cords, etc. And don’t forget to include duct tape and scissors!
- Buy a lock for your student’s computer, desk drawer, and bike.
- Bring extra extension cords and power strips.
- Coordinate with your child’s roommates on shared items (who will bring what).
- Make sure your new adult is covered under your health insurance program and find out where they can go for care, especially if they are attending an out of state school. Are urgent care visits covered?
- Contact your car insurance agent, and let them know if your student’s car will be at home or college. You might get a discount on your current rate if the car will be parked at home for the school year.
- If your student is taking a car, find out how the coverage works if they let a roommate drive it.
- Buy insurance on your child’s laptop and cell phone; you’d be surprised how often something gets spilled on a laptop or a cell phone gets dropped.
- Ask your homeowners insurance carrier if your policy covers any of the items your child will take to college.
- If your child is living off campus, you may need to get a renter’s policy.
Travel, Study Overseas, and Scholarships
- If your kids are going to an out-of-state college or university, look for good airfares now. Shop early for flights on Southwest or another airline that allows you to bank your miles for future trips (in case you have to suddenly cancel a flight).
- Book hotel rooms now for popular events like parent’s weekend or sporting and cultural activities.
- Find out the deadline for requesting football and basketball tickets (and other popular events). It may be a lottery-type process that students need to enter during the summer.
- Investigate study abroad opportunities early — you may need to apply a year in advance for the more popular programs.
- Always be on the lookout for scholarship opportunities, as there is often little competition.
- Look for grants if your son or daughter will be volunteering on a philanthropic trip.
Basic Life Skills
As silly as this might seem, don’t assume your kid knows how to perform some basic life activities, particularly if they’ve never actually done it.
- Make sure they’re comfortable grocery shopping, and know where to find the best prices and how to use coupons. They’ll also need to know where to pick up toiletries, and where they’ll get any medicine prescriptions filled.
- Does your child know how to clean a living area, run a dishwasher, and do laundry?
- Does he or she know to check a car’s oil and fluid levels, and where and when to get it serviced. If your child won’t be bringing a car, does he or she know how to use public transportation? And how familiar is your young adult with the airport (particularly important if they’ll be flying home periodically)?