Tips for Parents of College Students

By Julia Califano · December 29, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Tips for Parents of College Students

When your child heads off to college, you are probably awash in all kinds of emotions. Pride, relief (yes, they got into school!), sadness, anxiety, and excitement can all swirl around you. Your baby is growing up and forging their own independent life. Will they make new friends? Like their classes and excel in them? Find their way around campus easily enough? Will they overspend, sleep through class, and stay out all Friday night?

Part of having a college student as a child means you must get used to some separation and lack of information. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to play a vital role in their life. Here, some wise advice about conversations to have, topics to cover, and when to help them have an amazing time at school.

Advice for Parents of College Students

Although each parent-child relationship is unique and each parent may face different challenges with their college student, there are moments that can be universal when your “baby” heads off to university life.

You’ll need to know how much to let go and encourage your child to become independent versus how much you should continue to provide support, whether that’s emotional support or financial.

Where that line should be drawn for each child and parent depends upon things like the seriousness of the problems being faced and how temporary or permanent they may be. In general, though, tips include:

•   Listen, but try not to dive right into problem solving. This may not be the moment to lead with, “Here’s what you need to do…”

•   Be mindful about how often you communicate and give your college student space while also staying available. Texting constantly and expecting quick replies will be unrealistic for many parents.

•   You may be used to getting those report cards regularly and monitoring your child’s checkups at the doctor’s office. Recognize that now, times are changing, and you may not always be kept in the loop. FERPA (or the Federal Education Records Privacy Act) gives college students new privacy rights that can be defined pretty broadly. You may want to talk to your child about signing a FERPA waiver that will give you more access to information.

Accepting that college isn’t just about education but also about your child establishing themselves as an independent adult is an important transition for both of you.

💡 Quick Tip: Pay down your student loans faster with SoFi reward points you earn along the way.

Parenting College Students During Summer Break

Just when you figure out how to parent your child when he or she is away from school, summer break arrives with a different set of challenges. The young adult that you watched leave for college is probably not the same person who is returning. Maybe they don’t want to chat as much as before, or don’t seem as open to talk about daily life, friendships, and relationships.

The parent-child dynamic may be less about directing your kid’s actions and more about creating a collaborative partnership.

This can include things like withholding judgment about your child’s actions and making requests rather than demands — even when you’re sure you’re right. Your child is growing up and stretching their wings, both at school and when they return. They are becoming a full-fledged adult, after all.

Analyze which rules are the most important, and focus on those, letting other ones go. One example is you might ask that he or she call you if dinner will be missed, but not try to impose a curfew.

Recognize that during summer break you’ll probably need to readjust to being together, while also focusing on enjoying your time together.

Conversations about Paying for College

As part of your evolving parent-child relationship, you’ll likely find yourself in conversations about the best ways to pay for college. As the parent, you’ll likely initiate these talks. As part of your discussions, you may want to:

•   Be clear about how much money you’re willing or able to contribute towards your child’s college expenses and how much your child will need to contribute.

•   Discuss how much college will cost once you add tuition, housing, books, and other expenses together.

•   Talk about student loans, including the differences between federal student loans and private student loans.

•   Discuss how your child working during college may help pay for expenses.

•   Talk about money management and how your child may feel some stress over student loan debt.

Here are some valuable topics to mention.

•   There are scholarships and grants that usually don’t need to be repaid. What’s left is the amount that typically needs to be paid for by a combination of parental contributions, student contributions, and student loans.

•   The two main types of student loans are federal and private. To qualify for federal student loans, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA® (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form needs to be filled out every year to determine eligibility for federal student aid dollars, including federal student loans.

•   Federal loans can be subsidized or unsubsidized. Students may be eligible for a subsidized loan if they have a certain degree of financial need. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest during the six-month grace period after graduation/dropping below half-time enrollment and during any loan deferments.

•   If the student drops below half-time enrollment, the grace period will begin even if he or she has not graduated yet, although there are some circumstances in which the student loan grace period can change.

Unsubsidized federal student loans do not require a demonstration of financial need, but do accrue interest during the entire loan period.

Private student loans are not funded by the government. Your child can apply with individual lenders, and each loan will come with its own terms and conditions, including repayment terms. Private loans can help fill the gap between what your child can pay with scholarships, grants, or federal loans.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

Saving for Your Child’s College

If you’re still saving for your child’s education, your options may include:

•   What are known as 529 college savings plans, also called qualified tuition plans, allow you to save for college while potentially offering tax benefits. Money saved in an education savings plan (sponsored by some states) can be used for tuition, fees, room and board, and other qualified higher education expenses at a college or university.

•   Prepaid tuition plans (available at some universities) offer the option to prepay tuition and fees at current rates.

•   Traditional or Roth IRAs, although more commonly used to save and invest for retirement, can be used to save for college expenses. .

•   Coverdell Education Savings Accounts allow you to set up an account to pay for qualified education expenses, but contributions are not tax deductible and are only available for people whose income falls under certain limits.

•   Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts are intended as a savings vehicle for beneficiaries under the age of 18. Depending upon your state, the funds will transfer to your child at either age 18 or 21 and do not have to be used for education expenses.

Tax Credits and College

When it’s tax time, if you claim your college-age child as a dependent, you might qualify tax credits related to education.

•   The American Opportunity Tax Credit could be helpful during the first four years of their undergraduate education. Qualifications include MAGI, or modified adjusted gross income, among other factors.

This is a credit for tuition and other qualified education expenses worth up to $2,500 per eligible student and could reduce the filer’s tax bill, not their taxable income.

•   The Lifetime Learning Credit is also a tax credit, but may be harder to qualify for. Each year, you can claim either the AOTC or the LLC, but not both.

Parent Student Loans

You may be able to take out loans for your child’s education expenses, including a federal Parent PLUS Loans, available to parents of dependent undergraduate students for the amount of attendance costs minus other financial aid.

Private lenders may also be an option. Fees, rates, and repayment options vary by lender and they don’t typically offer forbearance or deferment options like federal loans do. As another option, you may be able to co-sign a private student loan with your child.

SoFi Parent Loans

Paying your child’s tuition with SoFi’s flexible, competitive-rate parent loan may be an option for consideration as well.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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