I remember well what it was like to be expecting my first child. All the anticipation and preparation were focused on the upcoming birth. But when I had some physical challenges in the first couple weeks after he arrived, my midwife gently reminded me of something I haven’t forgotten, more than two decades later: “You first-time moms put all your interest and energy toward birth, but you need to pay attention to what happens right afterward, too.”
It’s an analogy that applies to being parents of college students as well. Our concerns tend to fix on the transition to campus life and the goal of graduation. But the first months following receipt of that hard-earned diploma are part of the process, too, and helping your student launch successfully requires attention to details well ahead of Commencement Day.
By the beginning of your college student’s senior year, you should be talking about what lies ahead. As you do, consider decisions you’ll need to make regarding the following.
1. What will your student do after graduation?
This is the first and most obvious question, which will define answers to the others. Will they pursue a job right away? What field or position will they aim for? Will they take a post-college gap year before applying to graduate school? Do they dream of traveling, or the Peace Corps? It’s essential to determine immediate goals early on, so your student isn’t floundering come the end of spring semester.
2. Are they prepared for a job search?
Most parents hope their grad will be gainfully employed sooner rather than later. While the job market is tough for many millennials, a strategic approach to job hunting can make a big difference. If there’s still time to do an internship in a career-related setting during senior year, that opportunity often opens doors, with many interns hired directly after graduation. Seniors should be in close contact with their college’s career planning and placement center for advising and connections. Resumés should be polished and LinkedIn profiles created, ideally by mid-year, so your student is ready for a spring semester job search. It’s a lot to juggle amid classes, papers and exams, but for a student who wants to hit the ground running after graduation, these steps are essential.
3. Where will they live?
Naturally, this will depend on where they go and what they end up doing, but it’s wise for soon-to-be grads to have a rough plan in place. If your student has loans to pay off and plans to work in your area, it may make sense to move back home for a while to save money. If the last thing they want to do is live with their family again, what are other options? Researching rent prices is a good place to start, to determine whether an apartment is affordable or if a room in a shared space is a more realistic scenario.
4. If they move home, what will that look like?
According to recent Pew Research Center data, more young adults are living with their parents than at any time in the previous century. Among college grads, about 20 percent of 18-34 year-olds live at home after graduation, at least for a while. While a tight job market and high housing costs may make this a logical choice, it’s key to set clear expectations to avoid conflicts over rights, responsibilities and behavior. Will your student pay rent? What about household chores? You’ll need to talk about how to divide laundry, cooking and cleaning tasks. What about alcohol or marijuana use? If it’s permitted, in what circumstances? Will overnight guests be allowed in their room? You may not see eye-to-eye initially, but your newly minted graduate is farther along the path to adulthood, and expectations should be discussed accordingly.
5. How will your student handle debt and credit?
Will your graduate assume full responsibility for their student loans? If they will have financial liability, how will they arrange to cover it? You may want to talk about setting up an automatic payment plan for loans, as well as how to start establishing credit. In our son’s case, we had him sit down with an advisor at our credit union to look at options for building his individual credit rating. He was able to get a secured card with a low limit backed by his savings account, which will prepare him for an eventual consumer card or auto loan if he uses it responsibly.
6. Who will pay for health care?
Under the Affordable Care Act, young adults can remain on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. Will you continue to carry your student, or will they need to find their own coverage? How will they go about doing that? What about dental and vision care? If you’ve been taking care of making all those appointments for your college student, like I have, it’s time to turn that over.
7. What about their cell phone? Car insurance?
Many recent grads I know, including my son, are still on their family’s phone plan. It’s generally a lot cheaper to pay for one line on a multiple-line plan than to go solo. In our case, we’ve agreed to pay for our son’s service for at least a while, as he gets established. But you’ll want to discuss specifics here, too: Should your grad pay a portion of the monthly bill? What happens when it’s time to replace a phone — do they buy their own next time? What if they’re the one who tends to use more than their share of the data? (This is not a hypothetical situation, in our case.) Deciding on the details beforehand helps avoid unpleasant surprises for everyone.
Auto insurance is similar. It will be less expensive to keep your graduate covered as a driver on your family policy, especially if they are male as young male drivers are in the highest (most expensive) risk pool.
Senior year is a time for us to celebrate our students’ many accomplishments, and for them to revel in one last blast of no-strings semi-independence. It’s also a crucial time of transition. Though it may be more complicated now to take on all the adult responsibilities our generation assumed at age 22, with advance preparation we can help set our students on a positive path into the future.