Sending a child to college for the first time is a rite of passage as a parent. It’s a celebratory moment—the culmination of years of helping with homework, chauffeuring to and from extracurriculars, and enduring SAT/ACT prep—but an emotional one as well. While your high school graduate is likely feeling excited and a tad nervous, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed, worried, and maybe even a little weepy.
The best way to combat pre-orientation jitters is to be prepared. As you work to tackle a neverending to-do list, we’ve compiled a list of often overlooked but hugely important things to consider before making that first drive to campus. With a little planning, you can set yourself and your soon-to-be college student up for a successful and stress-free freshman year.
For a deeper dive into these topics, check out our podcast exploring “Tips for First Time College Students & Parents.” For a step-by-step guide to all the financial and healthcare decisions you should consider before sending your child to college, follow our helpful checklist.
1. Establish Power of Attorney and other legal authorizations
If you’re preparing to send your child away to college for the first time, chances are they have already turned 18—which means they are now legally an adult.
“It might not feel like much has changed but as soon as a child turns 18, from a legal perspective, everything has changed,” says Andrew Costa, Vice President of Financial Planning at HORAN.
As a parent, you’ve grown accustomed to being automatically kept in the loop when it comes to your child’s day-to-day experiences, whether there was an issue at school or test results had just come in at their doctor’s office. But now that they are legally an adult, you won’t get those phone calls anymore.
One way to ensure you have the legal right to intervene should your child need you to is to establish a Power of Attorney, both for financial and healthcare decisions. It’s a simple document you can complete with the guidance of a trusted attorney designed to formalize you as your child’s main caregiver. Some examples of when this might be useful: Let’s say your child is traveling and needs financial assistance, you’ll have access to their funds and accounts. If your child needs to have their wisdom teeth removed and you plan to help them after surgery, the healthcare provider will require proof that you are legally permitted to take them home and pick up their prescription medication. Power of Attorney is also important to have in the event of an emergency, allowing you to make medical decisions on behalf of your child.
Be sure to confirm with your child’s college or university whether there are any necessary authorization forms you need to complete allowing you access to your child’s academic, financial and medical records on campus.
2. Discuss budgeting and financial wellness
For many young adults, going away to college is the first time they’ll be partially or even fully responsible for their own finances. Even if they have been exposed to the concepts of budgeting and money management as they’ve grown, now is a great time to sit down and have a conversation with them about financial wellness.
“Don’t wait for there to be an issue or a hiccup,” Costa says. “And just because your child has always been really good with the money that you’ve given them doesn't mean they’re going to be able to operate a budget on their own without a conversation.”
Consider showing them how you manage your household budget to better illustrate the concept for them and make use of digital tools like Mint and Truebill, which allow users to track their spending and visualize where their money goes each month. TrueBill in particular tracks all subscriptions and periodically prompts users to reconsider their interest in them to avoid the common financial blunder of subscribing to a service and forgetting about it, yet continuing to be billed every month.
If you choose to open a credit card for your child, be sure to explain how interest works and go over best practices for use before cutting them loose with the plastic.
3. Make sure your student understands their loans
To say the very least about such a colossal issue, student loans are tricky. College students do have access to loans in excess of their tuition, which is important for those who need extra help supplementing living expenses, but can lead down a slippery slope. Even if you plan to take out Parent Plus loans that allow you access to account statements as a co-signer, it’s important for your student to understand how interest compounds over time and how the repayment process works. If you won’t be co-signing the loans, get in touch with your child’s college or university to determine how to best stay up-to-date on tuition payment status so you are notified if there is a lapse or deficit. Encourage your child to forward any mail or emails they receive regarding their student loans so you don’t miss important notifications.
4. Consider all health insurance options
Most colleges and universities require students to have health insurance before they can enroll, whether it’s through the school’s Student Healthcare Insurance Plan, Medicaid, or their parents’ insurance plan. While it might seem like the simplest solution to keep your child on your family plan, that is not always the best one.
“Take a look and compare the numbers,” says Chris Mihin, Vice President and Managing Principal at HORAN Campus Health. “The most important thing if they stay on your plan is that they have access to care around their community.”
Not all insurance plans include coverage for out-of-state healthcare providers and pharmacies. If your child is attending school outside of your local network, confirm your family plan has a national PPO to ensure they’ll have access to care near their campus. If not, the Student Health Insurance Plan might be a more cost-effective option.
If you are unsure about what’s best for your family, our team of consultants can help you compare options and navigate the decision.
It’s also important to keep in mind that many colleges and universities require students who wish to opt out of campus coverage to complete a waiver confirming this decision. If the waiver isn’t signed, they’ll be charged a premium. Remind your child to be on the lookout for any emails or notifications regarding student health insurance and forward them to you, so you can confirm the necessary forms are complete.
4. Get up to date with preventative care and vaccines
No matter where your child plans to attend school, living away from home for the first time is going to be a major adjustment for both of you. For many students, this also means managing their own healthcare for the first time.
“Thirty-four percent of college-age kids going to school have chronic conditions and now they’re going to try to manage them for the first time on their own,” Mihin says. You can ease this transition by helping your child stay up-to-date with preventive care visits either before school starts or during breaks.
You can also encourage them to take advantage of campus health centers, which offer wellness visits and routine vaccinations like COVID and flu shots.
If your child regularly takes prescription medications, make sure they know how and where to get those in their new community, whether at a pharmacy or through the mail.
Taking care of the financial and healthcare decisions outlined above before the big move will help you send your child off to college with confidence and empower them to have a happy and healthy campus experience.
At HORAN Campus Health, we champion bold innovations and offer customized health plans, resources, and tools designed to improve the overall health and wellbeing of your students. Together, we can offer the holistic support students need to thrive on campus and succeed in life.