The Countdown to College: Preparing Your Child for College

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Jane Warren
Jane is an avid watersports fan, who enjoys boating, scuba diving, swimming, and water skiing. She loves to travel, especially to locations where she can participate in water sport activities. Jane also loves animals, and writes articles educating consumers on pet care, and the joys of owning a pet. Now that the kids are grown, she has time for doing the things she enjoys!
Jane Warren
Jane Warren
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Preparing Your Children for College: My Top Five “Get Ready for College” List:

I had a minor freak-out the summer before my daughter left for college. I had tried to teach her to be responsible. She knew how to do her laundry, cook a simple meal and clean the toilets. But had I taught her enough? What about grocery shopping, car maintenance, finances? I imagined a myriad of potential pitfalls and disasters awaiting her at college.

I vowed to spend that summer teaching her everything she needed to know in order to be prepared for going to college, in an eight-week crash course. She had other ideas, as you can imagine. An 18 year old is the smartest person on the planet — completely self-sufficient and full of confidence.

When I took her to college at the end of the summer, we visited a grocery store. I wanted to teach her about comparison shopping, how to shop the sales, and how to pick produce, but she whisked through the store, throwing boxes of macaroni and cheese and cold cereal into the cart.

A few months later, though, she called me, not quite so cocky. Taking care of oneself was turning out to be more difficult than she had planned. She had a list of questions, but the one I found the most entertaining was, “How do I buy bananas?”

She loves bananas, but couldn’t eat the large bunches that the store sold before they turned brown. I said, “Well, you know you can break off a couple of bananas from the bunch and just buy those, right?” This was a revelation to her and I learned something as well. As parents, we spend huge amounts of time and energy teaching our kids “the important things.” Turns out all that fretting was unnecessary. What they really need is a lesson in buying fruit!

Now my son has just gone to college. I’m not fretting about every little thing this time. I realize that I haven’t taught him everything he needs to know, and he’s going to do okay anyway. There are, of course, things he does need to know that only I can teach him.

My Top 5 “Prepare Your Child for College” list includes the following skills:

  1. Financial competency. Does your child know how to balance a bank account? More importantly, does he know how to differentiate between needs and wants, and have the self-discipline to do so? We’ve outlawed credit cards for our kids while they are in college. If you can’t afford to pay for it today, you can’t
    afford it, period.
  2. Basic housekeeping skills. Chances are, your child won’t keep the dorm room the way you’d like. Rudimentary skills, though, are necessary to keep a basic level of hygiene. Your child should know how to wash dishes, clean the bathroom and run a vacuum.
  3. Take care of clothing and teach them how to iron. My daughter’s roommate had never run a washing machine in her life. Taking care of clothing is one of the best ways to learn to appreciate them. And if they can iron, at least you have a chance that won’t always look like they slept in their clothes!
  4. Safety. Teach your child how to recognize and avoid situations that are unsafe and to trust that little feeling of doubt. If they feel uncomfortable in a situation, take immediate steps to get out of it. And encourage them to talk with local authorities – it may help someone else out later if others are aware of dangerous places and people.
  5. Food and cooking. Teach your child how to make basic meals and shop for healthy food. How to separate bananas at the grocery store is a useful skill.

Studying alone?
Now your college-bound child may not be taking their dog or cat (or snake, turtle, fish, gerbil – you get the picture) with them, but if they do, or end up getting one while they are there, then they need to know how to take care of them. Mom & Dad are not around to pick up the slack anymore. We’ve learned that pets teach kids about responsibility and compassion, and that can be a good influence on their roommates or buddies. Teach them to buy basic supplies in bulk, like discount puppy pads. And they only have to go to the vet for the things they can’t do themselves, like annual shots and other treatments.  Dogs love greenie dog chews, and that’s a cheap dog teeth cleaning idea that will save them money!

If you’re reading this two weeks before your child leaves for college, the boat has already left. Chances are, though, you’ve taught your child more than you think. As Roy L. Smith said, “We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.” Your college-bound child has likely learned many things simply by watching you.

About the Author:

Jane Warren offers practical tips for pet owners at her website She provides product reviews and information on health topics related to all types of animals.