As her mother and I get ready to send our daughter off to college in a few weeks, we can’t shake the feeling that there’s more, there must be more, we should have done to prepare her for this new and life-changing (we hope life-enhancing) experience. This is a feeling that most parents are familiar with as they prepare sons and daughters to ‘leave the nest’ and take wing on their own, to a greater or lesser extent.
Today students are pretty much on their own when they arrive at school, and have to learn quickly how to navigate not just the educational system, but the social and emotional systems that are part and parcel of university life. The statistics are chilling: over half of all students who start college fail to finish with a degree of any kind. But since we can no longer blame the university for taking care of our kids, of my kids, that means parents have to shoulder the responsibility all by themselves. If my daughter fails, she may be culpable to some extent -- but the real blame will lie with her mother and I for not preparing her fully for the experience that lies ahead.
I can remember how ill conditioned I was for the start of college. My school had over 25 thousand students on campus, which made it a small city with its own rules and customs. I joined a fraternity to help me acclimate to my surroundings. And in hindsight I bless my lucky stars that I took some of the harder basic college courses the summer before starting on campus -- that gave me the ability to sort of ease into things and be able to pledge for a good fraternity. But I have to be honest -- my parents never gave me the kind of ‘facts of college life’ talk I should have had before being marooned on campus by myself. I learned things the hard way -- by trial and error. It was only because of my thick crust of stubbornness that I managed to survive that first freshman year and start to adapt successfully.
Here’s what my wife and I taught our daughter while she was still in junior high -- and in retrospect, we should have started all this in grade school!
Our daughter knows she has to stay debt-free while in school for as long as she can. She brings a healthy bank account with her, and will work part time jobs if she has to. One of the things we really drilled into her was how much to spend on rent while living on a shoestring budget.
We taught her early on that good grades are important, but so are good times and especially networking. This is not the same as binge drinking and irressponsible sex -- and we set her straight on those points very early one.
Our daughter knew from the time she began grade school that she needed to think about the consequences of her actions, and to ignore what the crowd was doing and concentrate instead on what she knew was the right thing to do -- and if she didn’t know the right thing to do, then to stop and ask advice from trusted advisors.