As parents, our primary objectives for raising our children tend to center around preparing them for their adult lives. One of the first steps toward independence and adulthood for many teens is going to college.
When you’re preparing a teen to go to college, there are logistical things to think about, such as insurance and health care, and psychological and mental components, and there are general things you can do to help them better prepare to be on their own.
The following are some general and specific things to know and do to help your teen get ready for college.
College Students and Insurance
Even though your teen is going to soon be on their own, there will be things they’ll continue to need your help with. Insurance can be one of those. This includes auto insurance and health insurance.
If your teen is going away for school, you should leave them on your car insurance policy as long as they’re considered a dependent. Parents often wonder if they should get their teen a separate car insurance policy when they leave home, and the answer is no.
Even if your teen isn’t driving their own vehicle at school, leave them on your policy anyway. For example, your car insurance policy will cover your teen under personal injury protection coverage.
That covers medical expenses that stem from car accidents, even if your teen is riding in another person’s car.
Your teen doesn’t need to get their own car insurance policy until they are the sole owner listed on a vehicle title, and they are living financially independently on their own.
What about health insurance?
Most college students will stay on their parents’ plans when they’re under the age of 26. As a parent, you may need to contact your health insurance company and ask about out-of-state coverage.
Student coverage can be another option if your teen doesn’t have insurance through your family for some reason, or a student, particularly one who’s financially independent, could purchase a plan through the insurance marketplace.
Well in advance of your teen heading off to school, try to start working with him or her on developing essential life skills.
For example, does your teen know how to do laundry? Many teens surprisingly don’t, and they can come home for fall break with a lot of discolored or ruined clothes.
Go over separating laundry and general things like ironing.
You should work with your teen on general cleaning skills and simple meal preparation. Your teen probably won’t have access to a kitchen, so keep that in mind.
Before your teen goes to college, take them to their hometown health care provider for a checkup. If they take any medications, ensure they have those ready to go and make sure their vaccines are updated as well.
If your teen is going to live in a dorm on campus, they may be required to get a meningitis vaccine. There is a relatively new one called Menactra, and it’s geared specifically toward the strain of meningitis that often occurs on college campuses.
Go over your teen’s physical health with them—for example, many teens gain weight during their first year of college, which is the so-called “Freshman 15.” Talk to your teen about making healthy food choices and staying physically active.
Discuss substance use on college campuses and go over the situations that your teen may face and the health consequence they can create.
Many parents aren’t aware of the risks of teens taking prescription drugs on campus, so speak with your teen about illicit use of prescription medications, including pain medicines and stimulants like Adderall.
Mental and Emotional Health
Encourage your teen to share their worries with you about their new lives at college. Go over what your teen should do or know if they start to experience issues while they’re at school, and how to serve as their own advocate.
For example, what if your teen starts to feel as if they’re drowning in school work? Let them know who to speak with on campus, such as their academic counselor, and how to make the necessary adjustments.
Colleges also have mental health programs that can be an excellent resource during a stressful time of transition.
Many teens don’t work during their first year of college because they’re already under tremendous pressure academically, socially, and emotionally.
If your student isn’t working, talk about budgeting. Plan to give your teen a set amount of money each month based on their needs. Talk to your teen about making smart financial choices and avoiding things like new credit cards. Credit card companies often target vulnerable college students.
A prepaid debit card can be a good option or college students because it forces them to manage their money, and it’s a good way for them to learn money skills they can use for a lifetime. It also gives you control over their finances, even though they’re making the day-to-day decisions.
One area where college students tend to struggle, especially initially, is with time management. When they live at home, they may be used to managing their time for them in many ways, but they won’t have that supervision and structure while they’re at school.
Talk to your teen about different strategies for effective time management and how to ensure they’re studying enough.
Finally, create a communication plan with your teen if they’re leaving the city or state for school. For example, do you hope that your teen will check in with you primarily via email, or phone? How often would you like to hear from your child while you’re away?
Set expectations for checking in so you can both stay on the same page, and you’ll have a red flag something could be up if your teen doesn’t stick to the plan.
Getting a teen prepared for college is no easy feat, but it’s an important job for parents and one we take seriously.