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You can help your college-bound kid

Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, authors of the new book The Secrets of College Success. Photo by USA Weekend Magazine (Buy photo)

10 things every parent should do

USA Weekend Magazine

Next month, 20 million students will go to college -- more than 3 million of them for the first time. Parents can help. Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, authors of the new book The Secrets of College Success, offer their top 10 tips for parents of college-bound students:

1. Web-surf the college. Go to the website of the school your child will be attending and, together, explore the academic side of things. The more your child knows about college requirements, available majors and minors, and individual course offerings, the easier it'll be for him or her to navigate the college in person.

2. Invest in some hardware. Every college student needs a portable computer for essential tasks such as note taking, online research, writing papers and e-mailing. Pick a notebook, netbook or tablet that weighs no more than 3 ½ lbs, has a battery life of at least six hours and offers wireless capability and a webcam. And don't forget word processing software: Microsoft offers Office Ultimate cheaply to college students, and OpenOffice is free.

3. Buy the tomes. You might save your child -- and yourself -- a pile of money if you buy the required textbooks in advance. The college bookstore will have the lists (at the store and often online), but you'll get your best deal if you consider all the alternatives: brick-and-mortar campus bookstores, online retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, eFollett, half.com), and even book rentals (chegg.com, campusbookrentals.com and bookrenter.com). Be sure to consider e-books, as well as conventional print books. Compare online retailer prices at meta-sites bigwords.com, bestbookbuys.com and cheapesttextbooks.com.

4. Splurge on some furnishings. Your child will have a more pleasant college experience -- and might study more, too -- if you get him or her some nice dorm accessories. Start with a plush chair and iPod speakers (try Walmart, Target, Costco or BestBuy), then move on to a good desk lamp and desk chair (Office Depot, Office Max and Staples have a good selection). Think of them as "housewarming" gifts.

5. Set the (e-) rules. Determine how often your child wants you to call (some students may welcome five calls a day, while for others once a week is more than enough). And decide on Facebook rules: Are you allowed to post to your student's wall? Can you tag him or her in family photos? Are you going to be "friended" at all?

6. Make a financial plan. If you haven't done so already, now would be an excellent time to talk with your child about the cold realities of college expenses. Who's going to pay for tuition, room and board, and books, not to mention pizzas, beer, clothes and trips? An open discussion now can forestall great unpleasantness later.

7. Have "the talk." It's not too late -- or too soon -- to review the basics. Discuss with your child the dangers of college: too much partying, risky sexual behavior, recreational drug use and simple lack of sleep. If this is your child's first extended time away from home, he or she will benefit from your life experience.

8. Resign as manager. Many parents, especially conscientious ones, are accustomed to helping their kids study for tests, reminding them of upcoming deadlines, and going over the homework nightly. But one of the most important skills for your child to acquire is to do all this on his or her own. Don't stand in the way of your child's becoming a good student -- and a responsible adult -- by holding onto a high-school parenting model.

9. Let the professor help. Most beginning students don't know it, but college professors are happy to offer academic assistance to all students (not just ones in trouble) during their twice-weekly office hours. And they're often available in other modalities: e-mail, Skype and even informal after-class chats. Encourage your child to make use of this most underused college resource. You've (pre-) paid for it.

10. Get there early. If you and your child hasn't yet been to an orientation session, get there ASAP. Your kid will learn a tremendous amount about the college and, more important, will pick first-semester courses. With seats in classes in short supply at many over-enrolled universities, it's "first come, first served." And when the first day of college rolls along, drive your kid there. The beginning of college is a big event in your child's life. Share it with him or her.


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