Untested Waters: College Students, Final Exams, and Quarantine

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college students and quarantine

For most parents, our hopes and dreams for the future are bundled up in our children.  And no moment ever distills those hopes and dreams more than when our children leave for college.


Sending a child to college is the culmination of so much work and planning nowadays, which typically starts with the savings accounts so many of us are taught to set up for our children as soon as they’re born.  The college visits, the application process, the acceptances, the rejections, the financial aid paperwork, and finally sending your child off into the world, leaves us wondering how it all passed by so quickly, and whether or not you did things right.


But, as John Lennon liked to say, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.  And now we find ourselves with semi-adult children back to the nest in circumstances never before seen in history.  You want your children to do well, of course.  But you also want to make sure that you get what you’re paying for.


So with that in mind, as your college-aged children are taking their finals, we thought it would be good to take a step back and look at how to help your college student navigate the reality of expanding their horizons… especially while under lockdown.


  • Work with your accountant and financial team to verify your child’s school finances. Each school right now is making its own decisions in terms of when, if, and how to reopen.  Be sure to work with your financial team and your school’s financial aid office and registrar to find out whether the school will be offering any sort of discounts or pro-rated refunds (many schools are offering pro-rated refunds on room and board for the spring semester) so that you know how to budget going forward, particularly if your family is facing broader financial challenges right now.  Although many schools like to brag about meeting 100% of a student’s determined need, the devil is truly in the details – whether the school will saddle your child with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, or whether the school offers generous grants, scholarships, and even work-study programs.  Each school is basically “building the plane as they fly it,” so, you want to make sure that the plane ticket you’re paying for actually gets your child to his or her destination.


  • Give your child some space. By college, your kids are used to being on their own and will resent any attempts by you to micromanage their lives.  Making sure that your child attends all of his or her Zoom lectures and turns in papers on time will certainly help, but you don’t need to oversee every meal for them or do their laundry for them.  One additional possibility is to charge your child a modest amount of rent every month, to remind them that they’re not 14 anymore and that the changes in your relationship with them cut both ways.


  • Help them leverage their fresh perspectives and adaptability in the job market. There are pluses and minuses to ever age and although your children won’t have much wisdom quite yet, they will have the most current education, know the latest technology backwards and forwards, be much more in tune with cultural trends, and be far more flexible than older members of the workforce.  In the absence of on-campus recruiting, your son or daughter can start by putting together a website and social media presence to help build a brand that can then be leveraged with prospective employers.  Your children will also be much more comfortable working remotely since odds are good that they’ve been using apps like Skype and FaceTime for as long as they can remember – tools that can seem frustrating to older workers.


  • Separate older children from younger children. Your college-aged child will have different needs from kids in grade school or high school and while there’s nothing wrong with calling in a little extra help on the parenting front, your college-aged children need to be focused on developing their careers and not playing video games.


  • Study groups. Making sure your children have peers to hold them accountable will be more effective than any nagging or coddling you could ever do.


  • Remind your children that although they may feel invincible that everyone around them isn’t. The coronavirus isn’t especially dangerous to young people (with a few painful exceptions to remind us that we’re all vulnerable to it) but many of the people testing positive for the virus right now aren’t even showing any symptoms.  Your kids will want to live their lives as best they can, of course, but any travels they have out and about can bring them in contact with the virus, which they can then transmit to vulnerable people like their grandparents – without ever knowing it.  So all the more reason to be careful, wash those hands, wear a mask, and maintain social distancing.  This is particularly true if you’re in an urban or suburban environment.


  • Consider a gap year. Given that those schools are “building the plane as they’re flying it,” parachuting out for a short period is something to consider.  If your children are in K-12 they’ll want to stay on task in building their academic foundation, but for college kids and the enormous expense involved, a gap year may be worth considering.  We’ve become big believers in gap years in recent years just because with every generation, kids are under more and more pressure to get perfect grades and get into a top college, which means that their development as human beings often takes a back seat to the task of manufacturing a perfect transcript.  Once your kids are out in the real world it’s infinitely more difficult to take a break from life, but a gap year spent working at a resort, backpacking across Europe and Asia, or tutoring some special needs children can be a fantastic opportunity for the sort of learning and self-discovery that doesn’t take place in the classroom.  It also tremendously helps kids to figure out who they are and what they want out of life, which makes the grind of finishing school that much easier.  And with so much up in the air about the next school year, they won’t be missing much on the academic front.