Helping Your Child Leave the Nest

Written By: Rachel Strong
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It's all come down to this: Eighteen years of good times and bad, and now your baby bird is ready to leave the nest. You have one last thing you need to do before your little bird stretches his or her wings and starts flying.

For some parents, preparation for college begins at kindergarten. Most kids, however, start thinking seriously about college about their junior year. At this point, your student usually knows whether he or she wants to go to a four-year college, a trade school, or a community college to get the general education credits out of the way before making a decision.

The grades in your child's junior and senior years carry more weight than the previous 11, so that D in freshman Algebra probably won't hurt Little Billy's chances of getting into the college of his choice.

Starting the college application process should begin as a freshman. As a frosh, students should start volunteering with community organizations and learning keyboarding and computer skills (if they do not already know). Your student should get to know their school's guidance or career counselor as well. Some schools also have college prep classes or curriculum that may be something your student would like to look into.

As a sophomore, it's time to start attending college fairs and doing job shadows. Job shadows will give your student an idea of what he or she may want to do as a career-which will determine a major, which may be the deciding factor in a college. Sophomore year is also a good time to get a job and start a bank account-even if they may not need the money.

Junior year is the start of crunch time. Your student should take the SATs or ACTs in the spring semester so that there will be time to take it again if necessary. Visits to college campuses (with and without you) are to start in the junior year. To look good on a college application, run for leadership positions in your extra-curricular or volunteer organizations. Solid elective courses that may apply to your major (math, science, language, art, computers, etc.) will also help solidify the desire for that major. Your students should make an appointment with the school counselor for suggestions of colleges your student may not have considered.

Senior year is the time for applications. Students need to line up people for letters of recommendation. After a school is chosen and the application is accepted, housing needs to be lined up (whether apartment, on-campus, living with family, joining a frat or sorority, etc.) and financial aid needs to be gathered.

The trick to financial aid is to apply early. As soon as your taxes are done, your student should fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and other scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available online and many corporations offer scholarships for children of employees (check with your HR department for info and applications).

As a parent, there are things you need to do to prepare for college as well.

First, remember that this is their decision. While an Ivy League school may give YOU bragging rights, it may not be what your child wants. If you want a Wall Street analyst in the family, but your student wants to be a teacher or minister, your college choice may not be your child's.

Second, plan ahead how much you will be paying for college. It is not a requirement for parents to pay for schooling, so make sure your child knows how much you will provide for, either one year, four years, ten years, no years...

Third, help your child keep on schedule, but do not do the work for them. Refuse to fill out applications, line up letters of reference, or write essays for your child. Just as this is their decision, they need to do the work.

Fourth, do your taxes as soon as you can so your student has the information he or she needs to fill out the financial aid forms.

After a school is lined up-even if the school was not your first choice-buy clothing sporting your child's school. If you want to, help your child find housing and buy things for his or her room. Sign up for a 1-800 number or calling card so your student is able to call home every once and a while. It is not, however, a good idea to get your child a credit card. Eighty percent of college graduates leave school with thousands in credit card debt, and that is not a good way to start a new life.

College is becoming more and more important, and the right college will give your child the best start in their career.

And it's okay to cry as you drive your student to college and leave him or her at the dormitory entrance.

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