Q: Now that my daughter, JoEllen, got into her top college, I thought the paperwork would end. But she gets stuff every day, and she's like, "whatever." Am I a helicopter parent if I just deal with all her mail?
A: Sort her mail now, and you might end up doing her laundry every week of her freshman year. But ignoring the mail isn't an option, either. Texting teens aren't used to the volume of correspondence that comes via email or snail mail upon college acceptance, so you'll have to guide her.
"Once you've sent in your deposit, expect to be bombarded," says Marie Pinak Carr, author of "Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent's Operational Manual" (2011 edition, Dicmar, 2012). "Most will be addressed to your child," she says, "who will probably ignore them, including the tuition bill."
When you help JoEllen prioritize the mail, you're also helping her transition to living independently. Carr suggests sorting out the immediate to-dos. "Don't wait until summer's end to process health, housing (first come, first served), and student orientation forms, plus tuition bills and payment options," she explains.
Model how to organize and respond efficiently. For example, late payments are usually assessed a fee. Show her how to make a "tuition" file: Record the date it was paid and whether it was by check or credit card. Note the receipt of payment. Make files for other key areas, including "health," "housing" and "budget."
Go through the junk mail separately, modeling savvy consumer skills. Show her how to read the fine print on credit card options and "shred unwanted offers, as many guarantee immediate activation," says Carr. "Retailers offer students everything from linens to gift packages and books. Explain that the one-time discount for opening a store charge card can be easily swallowed by fees or interest later on."
Schedule what must happen before JoEllen heads to school. For example, find out when she needs to sign up for courses, where she purchases books and where can she register for intramural teams. If you're driving her to school, make sure you book lodging near campus early.
Does she need insurance for her computer and her smartphone? "Take a photo or video inventory of higher-ticket items. Keep purchase and warranty receipts," advises Carr.
New student orientation is a "must attend," says Carr. "Sometimes this includes placement testing, class registration, and student ID processing."
If parent orientation is offered, enroll! You'll get to meet faculty, ask questions and learn what services those big bucks are buying.
Richard H. Hersh, a former high school teacher and retired college dean, says too many students don't take advantage of everything colleges have to offer. In "We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), Hersh and co-author Richard P. Keeling say that many institutions see themselves as "a kind of bank with intellectual assets that are available to the students," and it's up to the student to discover them.
It's not "helicopter parenting" to identify all the things you're paying for and reminding JoEllen to use them to become a successful student. Your most important role this summer is reinforcing the motivation and work ethic that got her accepted to college in the first place.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)