Organizing Your College Student

Most of what parents talk about when moving a child to college is all the “stuff” they need. I have never been an organizer who focuses on the products – I focus on the process first. And so it was with moving my daughter to college. All summer her friends where buying bins, containers and bookshelves and we waited until a couple weeks before her move to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to the Container Store with her and buying some pretty stacking bins and then some new bedding at Bed, Bath  & Beyond. But I first talked with her about her chosen major, career development and money management. We also talked about social issues and what she might see in college that she hadn’t seen in her sheltered life here at home.

So life skills that I believe college students need to know:

  1. Budgeting their money – There are basics like writing a check, keeping a ledger and balancing your account. With debit cards its very easy to loose track of what you’ve spent.  If you give your student a lump sum to take with her and put into a new account, also give her a weekly budget. For example:  If you have $1000 for a semester (16 weeks) you can spend $50 a week and still have $200 left over at winter break. Other points with money:
    • if you have a meal plan, don’t waste money on other food
    • If you have to spend more than your weekly allowance, call home and we will discuss
    • Don’t get a credit card while in college
    • Do take a part time job on campus if it doesn’t interfere with studies
    • Make sure you know your cell phone plan so you don’t run up the bill
    • It’s good to have a job at home you can come back to on winter break and next summer
  1. Keeping themselves safe – There are certain things that we do for our children to keep them safe at home, so remind them:
    • Lock their dorm room doors at all times
    • Travel in groups
    • Keep the locator on their cell phone
    • Report suspicious people to campus police
    • Know the fire escape route in the dorm
  2. Staying healthy – College students notoriously beat their bodies up so go over good every day habits like:
    • Stay hydrated
    • Wash your hands
    • Take vitamins
    • Eat fruits & vegetables
    • Boost your immune system with vitamin C, exercise, sleep!
  3. Making major decisions – Bill Rancic and I do the same thing, we make pros and cons lists when making a big decision. I also tell my kids to talk it out:
    • If I do A, what will that look like? Feel like? Will that effect other people? If I do B what will that look like? Etc.
    • Do I need more information to make this decision?
    • When does this have to be decided? Can I sleep on it?
    • What is my gut telling me?
  4. Finding a career – Probably the biggest decision your child will make in the college years is what to major in. For my daughter who has a talent and passion for theatre I said, “Do what you love and figure out how to make money at it.” Some parents might not agree with me and that’s okay. But her passion earned her a scholarship so that got her in the door. Now she needs to learn in four years how to make a living at it. That might mean taking on a minor or a dual major. Or it might mean switching her major before she graduates. All of this is common today and I told her not to worry about in the first year. What I did tell her was:
    • Just do the best at what you’re doing right now.
    • Take advantage of every opportunity or career connection your school has
    • Ask people in the business for advice
    • Have a plan B

Many kids have no idea what job they want to do. For them I say, look at big categories of careers and decide what you don’t want to do to narrow it down. Think about:

  • Health care
  • Law
  • Business
  • Entertainment
  • Education
  • Computers

Once you have a short list of possible career industries, look at schools that offer all of those and start with general courses. The fact is, there are jobs out there that you’ve never heard of. Once you get into different subjects in college the light bulb might go on!