How to manage time
"College kids need to have excellent time-management skills," says Adrian Miller, 48, mother of two sons—a recent college grad and an incoming college senior. "Without Mom and Dad there to nag, urge, bribe and so on, things fall through the cracks unless the student knows how to manage his or her time and get things done." Get your child in the habit of using a planner to log all class assignments, sports practices, etc. She should also know how to break down long-term assignments into manageable parts so that she's not cramming the night before a big test or starting a 20-page paper the day before it's due.
How to manage credit
"As soon as kids show up on campus, they are almost 'handed' a credit card," says Braun Mincher, author of The Secrets of Money: A Guide for Everyone on Practical Financial Literacy (2008, Braun Media; $21.95). Parents should explain how credit works and the long-term ramifications of mishandling credit, he adds. "More and more employers are using credit scores to help determine employment offers," says Mincher. "Somebody who did not protect his or her credit during college may find that offer for the dream job being rescinded."
How to handle occasional homesickness
"Kids need to know they can always come home to visit if they are homesick, but that homesickness is part of the process of going off to college," says Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, 46, of Northport, New York, mother of a 14-year-old and 20-year-old twins. "Be sure your child understands to give it some time—the ol' college try, if you will."
How to be a good roommate
Talk with your child about what to expect from a roommate relationship, suggests Susan Fee, a licensed counselor and author of My Roommate Is Driving Me Crazy! (2005, Adams Media; $9.95). Common issues to discuss include borrowing items without asking, hygiene issues (sometimes Odor-Eaters can save the relationship!), poor communication, invading personal space and the importance of compromise. For more tips, visit myroommateisdrivingmecrazy.com.
How to handle car-care basics
If your child will take a car to college, she should know how to perform basic maintenance (think checking tire pressure, fluids, etc.), how to use an emergency kit, how to find a reliable local mechanic ( AAA.com has a list of AAA-approved repair shops) and where to go to register with the campus parking office, suggests Marie Pinak Carr, author of Prepared Parent's Operational Manual—Sending Your Child to College (2008, Dicmar Publishing; $13.95).
How to use the Internet for more than surfing MySpace.com
Kids should know how to use Internet resources to book flights, get financial information and more, says Miller. Before he heads to school, help your child set up a checking account and walk him through the basics of electronic banking. It's also a good idea to have him research and book a flight home for the holidays on his own (just make sure you OK the arrangements before handing over the credit card). "Parents do their kids a huge disservice by doing these things for them all through high school," she adds. Understanding online banking has the added advantage of allowing parents to easily transfer funds to a student's account, as well as making it easy for students to pay their bills electronically.
How to do laundry
Cover all the basics: How to sort clothing, which products to use when, how to dry on certain temps and why, how to fold or hang, etc. You should also remember seemingly obvious tips such as emptying pockets (Google "cell phone in washing machine" and you'll get more than 790,000 results. Enough said!), checking the settings on the machines and making sure washers and dryers are empty before adding clothes. When sharing a limited number of machines with dozens of other people, it's also a good idea to "leave a laundry basket, with your name on it, on top of the washing machine you're using," suggests Pinak Carr. "Someone can remove your wet laundry and place it into a basket in your absence."
How to find help and advice on campus
Every college has staff members and advisors who are there to help sort through that trying first year—and thereafter. "One of my daughters visited her advisor every two days that first freshman semester, for questions about her schedule and such. Really, she just needed an adult figurehead for support and to tell her it's going to be OK, since Mom wasn't there," says Gryvatz Copquin. "Her advisor was very helpful and understood my daughter just needed a shoulder."
How to live on a budget
Teach your kids not to impulse-buy, says Pinak Carr. Instead, advise them to "buy in bulk—especially snacks and sodas—rather than using vending machines," she says. Other helpful tips include keeping track of all ATM withdrawals, planning ahead for the month's expenses, microwaving or making snacks rather than eating out and using a student discount whenever possible. Doing a bit of research can also leave a few extra dollars in a student's pocket. For example, purchasing used textbooks at sites like abebooks.com and half.ebay.com/textbooks instead of from the campus bookstore can help kids save bonus pocket money.
Where to find great tips for getting the most out of college
Talk about a great gift! Here's one book every incoming college freshman should read over the summer: Been There (Should've) Done That: 995 Tips for Making the Most of College, by Suzette Tyler (2008, Front Porch Press; $10.95). The book offers advice from the real experts: college juniors, seniors and grad students who share the ins and outs of fitting in, researching professors and courses, taking exams, finding a mentor and much more. After all, wisdom is best learned from those who've come before you.
We know dorm living means that every square foot of space counts. Here's our list of items that should definitely make college life easier:
1. A mini refrigerator A compact cooling device will give students a place to store drinks and healthy snacks—and even ingredients for quick breakfasts—close by. Haier 1.7 Cu. Ft. Compact Refrigerator & Freezer, Black, $68.54; Walmart.com
2. Noise-canceling headphones Noisy roommate? Loud party down the hall the night before a big exam? A trusty pair of sound-blocking headphones make in-room studying a breeze. Sony Over-the-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones; $99.99; BestBuy.com.
3. A compact microwave A dorm-size one is unbeatable for fi quick meals—and for zapping lots of popcorn for those late-night study sessions. Panasonic 1.6 cu. ft. 1,250-watt microwave; $169.99; Target.com.
4. A portable flash drive Easy to throw in a pocket or purse, a flash drive lets students haul around tons of data with ease. Look for one that works with both a Mac and PC.SanDisk Cruzer 4GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive, $29.99; BestBuy.com.
5. A shower caddy Dorm-bound students will want a tote for hauling toiletries, and they can stuff this lightweight model with everything they need. Basket Shower Tote, $8.99; DormBuys.com.
6. Flip-flops Protect against athlete's foot and other shower-floor germs with these water-friendly flip flops. Bon Voyage Women's Shower Sandals, $4.99; DormBuys.com.
7. A surge protector With all the electronics today's students pack into a dorm room, a good-quality surge protector is a must. Enercell 8-Outlet Surge Protector w/ Coaxial and Photo Line, $27.99; RadioShack.com.
8. Extra-length bed sheets Many dorm-room beds are about 6 inches longer than standard twin beds, so you'll want to check with your school to ensure you're buying the right size linens. Dorm Co Twin Extra Long Sheet Set, Prices start at $29.99; LNT.com.
9. Beanbag chairs A couple of these dorm classics will give visiting friends a place to lounge—plus, they're stackable. Twill Dorm Beanbag, $44.99; Target.com.
10. A laundry hamper This easy-to-carry hamper makes light work of laundry day in the dorm. Dormbuys Pop Up spring Form Mesh Hamper, $20.99; LNT.com.