Graduating from high school and heading into post-secondary education evokes a jumble of emotions in young adults: excitement, terror, happiness, uncertainty. As a parent, you’ve likely witnessed them all in your child. Maybe you’re feeling the same way as you figure out how best to support your son or daughter as they take this important step toward adulthood.

For a little advice to help you out, we contacted staff and faculty representing both college and university campuses. Here are some tips from a president, a financial services officer, a registrar, an executive director and a campus pastor on how you can prepare yourself and your teen for this new stage of life.

Preparing for post-secondary education

  • Leave decisions about post-secondary education up to your child. Most teenagers know what their parents would ideally like them to do. What they really need are prayerful, supportive parents who will come alongside and encourage them. By letting your student make the decision, they’ll work harder to make the best of it.

  • If a student comes to college and is financially prepared, their future financial dealings will go much more smoothly. Demonstrating financial diligence may also move them to the front of the line for awards, bursaries and scholarships!

  • With that in mind, make sure your child knows the basics of finances. Teach him how to write a cheque, how a line of credit works, and how to create and stick to a budget. Set him up with an accessible bank account that he knows how to use.

  • A student credit card can be very useful if your child is able to exercise self-control. A card with a small limit can help build her credit rating, and is a lifesaver in emergencies.

  • Teach your son or daughter the practical skills they’ll need when living away from home, like how to do laundry or regular car maintenance. Time management skills are also an asset as he or she juggles a brand new set of responsibilities.

  • Make sure your young adult has all the necessary legal and medical paperwork they’ll need. You’d be surprised how many students arrive without proper identification or a medical card!

  • Take time to do some research with your son or daughter about suitable churches in the area that they could attend. In light of the very high number of students who walk away from church after high school, this action could help your child avoid becoming a part of this unfortunate statistic.

  • If it’s feasible, make a trip and book a tour of your teen’s new campus. It might be nice to visit with your entire family.

Caring for your child through their college or university experience

  • Try to avoid rescuing your student when they find themselves in trouble. Encourage him or her to find their way and resolve conflicts on their own.

  • Pray for them. Email them. If they’re away from home, send regular care packages with treats like gift cards and baking. If you live close to campus, invite some of your child’s friends over for dinner on holidays or long weekends; many kids can’t afford the trip home to celebrate with family.

  • Plan a set time to connect with your child over the phone or through Skype™. Be sure to do some research and organize these "connection points" to happen more frequently at a time when he or she may need an extra dose of encouragement, like during exam time.

  • Communication is vital to post-secondary success! Encourage your child to ask questions. Students who ask questions are typically more successful in academics and in getting financial aid.

  • Don’t contact school officials or faculty directly. A crucial element of post-secondary education is training students to prepare them for life. If you have a question, direct it to your child and ask him to seek out an answer for you. You’ll likely find you get quicker (and better) responses!

  • On a related note, school staff are not permitted to give you information about your child or their progress. As adults, their information is confidential. If you’d like feedback on your student’s progress, you’ll have to call or email your child.

  • Keep involved and be interested without smothering your son or daughter. It’s a difficult balance, but worth the effort. Students want their parents to care; few young adults, if any, say that their parents care too much.

Other tips for parents

  • Celebrate this transition as your young adult starts to move toward mature adulthood. Be prepared to change habits of care and control that you’ve cultivated over the last 18 years; your relationship with your child will change as he or she grows up and becomes an individualized adult.

  • Pray your young adult through her university experience. She’ll be challenged academically, relationally, emotionally, spiritually – it’s all a part of the process of becoming an adult.

  • Release your child. Trust God, yourself and your child enough to know that your teen made the right choice to pursue higher education and will make their own responsible choices.

Lindsay Hawkes was an in-house writer with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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