Q: How can I help my son or daughter be better prepared to succeed academically, socially, spiritually, fiscally and practically in college?
A: If your “child” is going to college, you have dreams in your heart of the truth they are going to learn, the people they are going to meet and the success they will accomplish with the degree they earn. We all want our young adults to think like Eleanor Powell, “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” We certainly don’t want them to think like Tom Petty, “You have four years to be irresponsible [in college], relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on a Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have . . . The work never ends, but college does.”
The reality is that acquiring college degree is one of life’s great challenges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 30 percent of adults have a college degree and 8 out of every 100 students gain a graduate (Masters) degree. Figuring out how to pay for college is also a difficult pursuit. According to CBS Money Watch, only 2% of high school athletes get sports scholarships while “seven in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,400 per borrower.”
We have been quite fortunate in this regard as all 3 of our sons were awarded partial athletic scholarships and will end their college careers with Masters Degrees in their chosen fields. We also consider ourselves fortunate that our sons have landed successful career positions in a sluggish employment environment where only about 50% of grads have fulltime employment at the one year mark after graduation.
We believe this has happened because of God’s favor and our efforts to help them prepare. In addition to our yearly Learner and Leader Days from elementary through high school (outlined in the 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make book), we proactively prepared our graduates to launch. During the months before each went away to college, we walked them through The Freshman Foundation Dinner and Discussion Questions. With each son, we personalized the when and where of these imperative interactions. For son number 1, we took 5 beach walks each evening at Cannon Beach Conference Center’s Family Camp where we were speaking. We took son two out to dinner once a week for 5 weeks in the summer following his high school graduation. For our youngest, we discussed his decisions over home cooked meals on our deck, then wrapped up the final loose ends on a weekend college scouting trip. Our goal was to discuss with each son five vital areas of life that must be “owned” for a young person to launch well.
The five vital areas covered by the The Freshman Foundation Dinner and Discussion Questions are:
Fitness: How will your student stay healthy emotionally, physically and psychologically?
Finances: Who will pay for what and how will your student balance work and study?
Future: What degree, internships, apprenticeships or other experiences will secure their career?
Friends: How they will find solid, healthy friends, a good church and Christian fellowship?
Faith: What decisions, mentors, methods and organizations will help them mature spiritually?
There are 7 to 12 questions in each area to help facilitate a thorough, sensitive, cordial discussion between parents and student. You are, of course, free to adapt or personalize the questions to fit your situation. The goal is to help your graduate take a bold step in assuming responsibility for his or her choices to increase the chances of success during college.
You may also want to consider developing an Education Contract with your student. (You can find it in 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make). This form will help your young adult clearly spell out a budget that describes who pays for what during the college years. Expenses will be identified and compared with contributions from scholarships, income from work and funds provided by mom and dad. The “Farrel Scholarship” money came with some pre-requisites. Our sons were rewarded for attending church, serving at church or in a local ministry, meeting with a mentor and participating in a church or campus ministry focused on their stage of life. They were required to maintain a GPA in line with their abilities and to sign a morality pledge to seek excellence in the moral choices they would be confronted with (includes convictions about drug and alcohol use, sexual decisions and other ethical dilemmas). We wanted them to see that a college education is a PRIVILEGE not a right. Failure to meet the provisions of the agreement would result in a probationary period in which our sons could regroup. Although we never had to pull our financial support, we were prepared to do so if our kids did not regroup during the couple of probationary periods we had to institute.
The goal of this process was not to put pressure on our sons. Instead, we wanted them to know four vital truths: 1) Mom and Dad were celebrating their growth. 2) Mom and Dad would work hard to support them but were not willing to work harder than them for their success. 3) Mom and Dad were serious and would keep our word. 4) Mom and Dad would be their cheerleaders, champions and prayer warriors through their academic journey.