Spring Semester Planning for Kids Returning to College

You made it! The kids made it home, the in-laws were tolerable and there weren’t a ton of gifts that needed returning. Now that everyone is headed back to campus, it’s time to either let that old anxiety creep in or spend some time on the front end helping your son or daughter develop a plan to be successful for Spring Semester.

Money

If you have not learned by now, discuss how much you are giving to your kid and when you’ll give it to them. You don’t want to find yourself in a defensive position Sunday night while your son is blowing up your phone begging for their regular spending money to be put into their account early. I recommend putting money into the account 2x/month. Put it on them to create a budget which factors in their books, fun money and any other expenses. I also recommend a limit is set for any credit cards and deciding who and when it will be paid off.

Organization

Talk about starting the semester off with everything in it’s place – clothing, car, computer. Let’s make sure everything is reviewed, updated and ready to go. While we’re at it, let’s pull up the calendar and start looking into the future to see when things will need to be re-updated. Get the oil change scheduled, even if it’s two months out. Get the printer cartridge in your Amazon Wish List so that you can move it to the cart quickly when your printer gives you a frowny face.

Scheduling

Speaking of calendars, let’s go ahead and talk scheduling more in-depth. I recommend to every college student they use the following strategy: Get all your syllabi, Put all dates for tests, papers, office hours, etc on your calendar. For tests, count back from the test date one week and put schedule study times (no longer than 90 min). Do the same for papers. Break down writing the paper into reasonable and realistic chunks of time and put them on your calendar. Theme: Put everything on your calendar, everything. If your son or daughter are in greek life, there are a ton of events that can be put on the calendar. Same with internships or study abroad – break down all the details so that you can see things from 10,000 ft.

Travel/Visiting Home

Plan out whatever travel including home visits your kid will have mor might have. If travel plans are only possible and not 100%, put a question mark after it so at least everyone knows that period of time is possibly accounted for.

GPA 

If your kid’s GPA got beatin up a bit in the Fall, it’s probably a good idea to identify a reasonable expectation for the Spring. If your son or daughter limped home with C’s and D’s, ask what is a realistic GPA for which to aim. Talk about it but make it clear there needs to be something concrete. . Along with identifying a GPA to aim for, talk about specific strategies that will be used to support them. All colleges have student support and academic support options. For instance, here in Bloomington, Indiana University has a solid Academic Support Center with a ton of resources that work well for thousands of students struggling academically.

Graduation/End of Semester

Part of that schedule should also have details that show your finals and last day of classes. Put details about studying for finals, having family in town, etc. If your son or daughter is graduating, figure out details early in the semester since 1) things get crazy busy/expensive during graduation and 2) hotel rooms get sold-out.

On Campus Help

Besides hooking up with academic support, it’s not a bad idea to find a counselor/life coach that can act as liaison between home and school. This professional should provide regular updates to parents, meet and be available as often as needed. They should be well-versed in young adult issues like anxiety, depression and ADHD. Universities often have counseling centers on campus that provide individual counseling for about six sessions and then they refer to a community professional. They might have ideas about professionals near your kid’s school that can offer support.

Final bit of advice – trust your kids and trust the process. With a bit of planning, your kid’s semester will have highs and lows but ultimately, they’ll finish the semester better than they started it.

Insider’s Guide: Top 5 Things for Your College Student Transitioning to Fall Semester

Most of the students with whom I work have depression, anxiety and mild substance abuse. One of the easiest, cheapest and most effective tools for combating these struggles in college is detailed planning. Below, I’ve outlined the Top 5 things I tell every student to implement as they are showing up for Fall semester.

  1. Syllabi Dates. Encourage your college student to plug-in all dates into their calendar from the syllabi they receive over the coming days. Once all the test dates are put in, reverse engineer two weeks prior to the test dates and put study dates into the calendar for no longer than 90 minute chunks. If it’s not scheduled, it will get pushed off till the last minute.
  2. Professor Office Hours. Everyone will want to meet with professors the Thursday and Friday before Thanksgiving. Have your above-average college student pull their professor’s office hours from the syllabus (yes, all professors put office hours on there) and plug into the calendar.
  3. Download Your University’s Academic Calendar. In June, I downloaded the Indiana University’s academic calendar for Fall 2016. It is a small file from Indiana University’s Academic page for any student or parent to view or download. Once downloaded, your college student can upload it into their calendar. Now, they’ll know Add/Drop dates, Fall Break, Winter Break, Finals, etc.
  4. Don’t Talk Every Day. Plan to talk 2x/week – (eg. Wednesdays and Saturdays). It’s time to intentionally create more autonomy, build trust, and not feel like you need to hover over them.
  5. Set up Counseling Early. Counselors and mental health providers get slammed since there are so few of us in most college towns. There are even fewer psychiatrists for medication management. Start looking for a counselor/therapist now before the semester gets in full swing. Psychiatrists are often scheduled out 2-3 months.

Good luck and please reach out for more suggestions and strategies to mitigate the challenges your college student is facing with depress, anxiety or substance abuse. Don’t go it alone.

5 Signs of Suicide Risk in College Students

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

There is nothing more exciting than dropping of your college freshman in late August as the cool nights of Autumn return. But not all students carry with them the same energy and positive outlook for the Fall. Some are carrying some heavy baggage from High School or even younger while others don’t start to develop any major issues until they first get to college (and their first taste of freedom from parents). What parents don’t know is that you likely know your college friends (or at least a side of them) better than their own parents do, and you may be able to tell that something is wrong way before anyone else. This quick list is as much for parents as it is for you students out there. 

The following signs might indicate a student is considering suicide:

  1. A good student who’s behavior suddenly changes – they start ignoring assignments and missing classes which are likely signs of depression or drug and alcohol abuse, which can affect their health and happiness and put them at risk of suicide. And yes, good students and good kids use drugs. Seriously. 
  2. Anyone who doesn’t have friends or who suddenly rejects their friends may be at risk. A friend who suddenly rejects you, claiming, “You just don’t get it,” may be having emotional problems.
  3. College students may be physically or emotionally abused by a member of their family or their girlfriend or boyfriend – or suffering from abuse that occurred long ago but triggered by the new college environment. Abusive relationships can make a college student feel like crap about themselves. Signs that a person may be in an abusive relationship include unexplained bruises or other injuries that he or she refuses to discuss. 
  4. This is a common one – Significant changes in a someone’s weight, eating or sleeping patterns, and/or social interaction style may indicate that something is wrong. Eating disorders are super common at college. Lot’s of perceived competition, anxiety and stress that translates into really unhealthy views of one’s self. 
  5. Coming Out? College students may suffer from depression or have thoughts of suicide if they have a difficult time adjusting to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students have higher suicide attempt rates than their heterosexual peers.

We understand regret and their could certainly be a real consequence of getting help for someone who seems to be really hurting. They might get pissed at you for not minding your own business. But think of it this way – is the regret of possibly losing a friend better or worse than the potential of knowing you could have saved your friend’s life but did nothing? Tough choice but that’s part of the burden of mental illness. 

7 Personal Finance Tips for College Kids

Yup - More advice for college kids.

Yup – More advice for college kids.

Chapel Hill is once again overrun with the bustle of students back at UNC. Restaurants are packed and campus is vibrating with the nervous excitement that envelopes our small town each Fall. Unfortunately, not all students are prepared to take-on the privilege and responsibility of freedom only a college student can experience.  Here are 7 Personal Finance Tips we have used with other kids and their parents. 

1. Finish Your Education

The only thing more expensive than a life without a college degree is a life with a partial degree and student loans. If your college student is struggling at State Univ with a bazillion other kids, take the next semester break to meet with a career counselor or clinical education consultant to discuss what about Big U. is not working for your kid. Don’t dump another penny into education until it’s towards the most effective environment for their learning. 

2. Set a Budget
Sit down with the parents, figure out what they are willing to provide either monthly, semester or for the whole year. This is your ‘income’ essentially. Next, calculate all your Essentials or Needs (beer is not a need). Things like printer cartridges, meal plan or food money, gas money if your off campus, text books. Next, figure out your Wants (this IS beer money). Add your Needs and Wants – this is your estimate in expenses. Break it down per week since doing it by months does not fit well with semester length. If you have $100 per week for your entire budget and your parents do a great job of ignoring request for additional injections of cash, you will quickly learn how to use a budget. We encourage parents to not put a lump sum in an account everything month – it’s way too tempting to blow through that in a week. Instead, put it in weekly based on the budget you all came up with. Any adjustments should be made during semester breaks in person. 

3. Invest (… a little)
What you’re lacking in capital (ie. $$$) you can make up for in time. With very little money put aside either each month or year, you’ll be able to take advantage of compound interest – the most magical of money making secrets. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you took $1,000 invested it August 2014 in a mutual fund with an interest rate of 5% per year as you were heading of to NYU for Fall classes. Each subsequent year, you put in only $250. After you graduate you get a job – not your dream job, but something that covers your bills with a little extra. You continue to put in $250 per year and do this for another 6 years. The total amount you invested was $1000 + ($250 x 9 years) =  $3250. But the cray thing is, your money has been quietly making little money babies in your mutual fund and the total value is actually $4,930.59. Nice. That’s $1700 in income you made without lifting a finger. What another magic trick? Put no more money in EVER and when you are 59 years old, that same $3250 will be worth $24,023.96. Play around with this calculator to see more about what money does over time. 

4. Learn Finance Basics
This is a great time to learn the basics about taxes, expenses, budgets and cost of living. Waiting until you’re 29 years old, married with a child on the way is the wrong time to start learning. Take advantage of any finance classes available at your school. Ask to help your parents during March and April while they prepare for taxes. The absolute most hardcore way to learn personal finance from my perspective is to start a business. This pushes you to understand basics of cashflow, expenses, revenue vs profits, taxes, selling, marketing and negotiating – all skills totally transferable to most other life domains. 

5. Lock Up Your Money
If you are a student and have money of your own either from a job or money from parents – consider putting it aside till you graduate. How do you figure out what to put aside? This is where our fancy-schmancy budget comes in. Figure out your reasonable realistic expenses for a semester X 8 semesters = Four years of college expenses. Life below your means (ie. income) and invest in yourself through education, relationships and experiences. Ignore all the crap other students stuff their dorms and apartments with and focus on yourself, getting the most out of your four years with low responsibility and high freedom. 

6. Get a Credit Card
The old school wisdom was to never get a credit card. Ideally, that sounds great – pay for everything with cash. Reality is credit (FICA credit score, that is) matters and credit cards are a great way to start building a great score. We recommend getting a credit card with a ceiling or spending limit that gets paid off each month. If the credit card is only used for school purchases like books, computer stuff, etc. it makes tracking the expenses for deductions and tax purposes way easier. It also helps provided easy tracking for expenses as relating to your new budget. Finally, it allows parents to easily review and pay the card balance while also getting card points if parents are in fact covering the bill. How to find one that fits? Try out Nerdwallet for some reviews on cards that seem well suited for the responsible college student. 

7. Work (…a little)
If you are privileged enough to not have to work while you’re in school, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a small part time job (or start a side business – ideas include laundry pickup, tutoring, making t-shirts). This will help build your resume and put some money in your savings account you’ll be able to tap when you graduate. If you’re taken out student loans, you’ll have to start repaying them within a few months of graduating so having a bit of a cushion in the bank will help lower your anxiety if finding a job or getting into grad school is tricker than planned. 

Ok, hope this helps get you all excited and prepared for the Fall semester. Contact us if you have specific questions about personal finance or career counseling for your college kid. 

7 Ways to Help Your College Kid Struggling with Anxiety

As excited freshman and nervous parents transition to another start to Fall semesters around the country, we wanted to put together a quick list of 7 things parents can do to hep their college kid suffering from anxiety. It’s scary to put so much freedom and responsibility into the hands of your son or daughter when you know worry and fear is always lurking around social, academic or career decisions. 

1. Counseling

Right out of the gate, the first thing parents should do is link their child with a) campus health services and b) a therapist specializing in college student anxiety in the community close to campus (ideally, a therapist that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy [DBT]). Waiting until the first big meltdown could be too late. Loads of freshman fail to share their struggles with their parents until Thanksgiving and Christmas which, by then, is too late in their minds and they end up not returning for their Spring semester. Invest the time on the front end. 

2. Scheduling

Anxiety is fed by fear. Fear is the by-product of lack of predictability about social events, academic outcomes, and career failures. One anecdote is increasing predictability. We accomplish this at Fonthill Counseling by teaching students to download the semester schedule onto their phone calendars before the semester starts. Next, after they’ve received their syllabi, we coach them to put in every single date for every single assignment/test possible. This also includes social events and any non-academic stuff they know about. This may sound like it could be overwhelming, but we’d rather have them feel a bit overwhelmed when looking at the calendars rather than anxious about remember when that next big thing is due. 

3. Resources

Not the most used suggestion but one we have to put here – make sure your son or daughter has a list or access to resources that can help them reduce stressors or mitigate things when they’re already starting to spiral down. These resources could include the academic supports found at nearly every university or within the community. Universities have a vested interest in making sure your son or daughter doesn’t bail at semester’s end. 

4. Medication

We are super conservative with medication use and recommendations for our clients. But, with that said, we also recognize that some folks simply need a bit more support than what counseling and academic support can provide alone. If your college does not have a psychiatrist on staff, we highly recommend finding one in the local community. We rarely encourage use of primary care physicians or nurse practitioners for medication management since they are not specifically trained to diagnose and medically treat those suffering from anxiety. You also want your college kid to work with someone who genuinely understands the risk of some medications that have the potential for addiction. Good kids get hooked on meds the same as bad kids. 

5. Meditation

We recommend to nearly every client to start participating in weekly yoga and/or meditation classes. This is an evidence-based approach with only positive side-effects. Plus, every college offers these in their wellness programs for free so encourage your kid to take advantage and put it into the calendar. Meditation, counseling and medication are an incredibly complimentary approach to combating anxiety.

6. Sleep

Not easy when kids have more freedom than ever away from home but we nonetheless push parents to encourage sleep. Not binge sleeping but a healthy 8 hours per night. The ideal for anxiety reduction is a steady sleep pattern so that bedtime and wake time are pretty standard every day. Staying up late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, sleeping in till 1:00pm and then dragging out of bed Monday morning for an 8:50am class is terrible for anxiety.  Sleep meds only make things worse and really should only be taken with the psychiatrists oversight.

7. Exercise

Encourage your kid to sign up for the intramural leagues, especially for sports where there is little standing around time. Distraction and flow experience are essential in helping him or her focus on non-academic activities. It’s also a great way for them to be social without needing a drink in their hand. 

Ok folks. Hope this helps you unloading the car, buying stuff at Target and getting through the fear of letting go. It’s an exciting time and, with the right strategies in the beginning, can be the start to a fantastic semester.