Even with the deluge of college data that's available today, there's nothing like getting the scoop from a fellow parent—especially one whose kid or kids are a few years further along in the process.
That's why we decided to put this question to the parents of recent college grads in a Money/Barnes & Noble College survey:
“What words of advice would you give to parents with children in college to prepare them for life in the real world?”
Our survey respondents seemed plenty eager to share—providing more than 600 well-considered answers in total. Virtually all agreed that college is a good thing, excessive debt is a bad thing, and students should be given some room to make mistakes and mop up after themselves. They also used the word “passion” a lot.
But our survey respondents were all over the place on matters like choosing the right colleges and majors in today’s economy.
Parent A: “Tell your child to choose a major where they will get a job, like business, engineering, nursing, accounting, pharmacology, computer anything, medical/healthcare anything.”
Parent B: “Encourage your child to major in a field that they love.”
There were plenty more where each of those viewpoints came from. There were also those who seemed to be looking for the middle ground, such as Parent C: “Help them explore majors that give them job opportunities that are realistic for the lifestyle they want to live.”
So the advice you’ll read below won’t always be in accord and may sometimes seem wildly contradictory. But it all comes from parents who’ve been through the college experience, lived to tell about it, and have some advice they (and we) believe is worth sharing.
“Do not choose a college that you cannot afford. Your child will still benefit from a college education no matter where they go.”
“Don't take out loans. Do whatever you can to avoid them.”
“Don't take too much debt unless you know it will translate into future income.”
“Try and get as much financial aid help as possible for your child's bachelor’s degree. If they need to take out a loan, let it be for their master's degree and above.”
“Do not use your retirement money to pay for your kids' college.”
“Don't provide unlimited resources. If they fail a class, they should pay to retake it.”
“Have them work part time while attending school, so they can learn to budget time and money.”
“Start a credit card in college under the child's name, as getting credit is very difficult when trying to lease an apartment after graduation.”
“Don't think of college as vocational school and don't measure ‘ROI’ in terms of the tuition cost (investment) and subsequent work income (return). Much of the ‘return’ is intangible or impossible to translate into dollars.”
“Teach them how to manage their money and don't always just give it to them.”
“Let the kids do as much of the real-life living as they can, like paying bills, rent, etc.”
“Discuss job/salary expectations, and parents' ability (or inability) to contribute frequently.”
“Be prepared for your child to have to live at home to pay off some debt and get gainfully employed.”
“Be prepared to help your children financially for many years after college graduation.”
Academics and extracurriculars
“Don't choose a college for a specific major. Most kids change majors numerous times. Pick a university with lots of choices and classes that are transferable from one major to another.”
“Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to acquire a well-rounded liberal arts education. It is the currency of civilization and will always serve your child well.”
“Don't listen to the naysayers who will tell your child to choose a different career path because of scarce job availability. The job market is cyclical and your child should follow his passion.”
“Don't try to push your career choice on them. They need to decide what their passion is.”
“Have your child take advantage of all opportunities offered on campus, including getting to know professors, using all academic-related resources (such as academic advising and career preparation), getting involved with extracurricular activities, and getting to know lots of new people.”
“Internships and as many as they can get.”
“Make sure your child stays on top of the hours taken and what's needed for graduation.”
“Don't be afraid to pull the plug and cut your losses if they don't make the best of it.”
“If it is not a good fit, do not stay with it. Seek out and demand help from the college. Do not be afraid of being a ‘helicopter parent!’”
Random parental wisdom
“Always encourage your children, especially through the rough times. College can be discouraging and stressful at times, and to know they always have their parents' support is essential to their success.”
“Allow the student to try new things, allow them to stumble and pick themselves up. Listen a lot, ask questions, and do not lecture (though that can be hard).”
“Urge your children to go as far as they can with their education. It is the one thing that can never be taken away from them.”
“Enjoy every minute of it. It goes fast, and your kids will grow and change change drastically.”
And finally… “Hang on.”
For more results from the survey and details on how it was conducted, see our recent report “Proof Nobody Understands How Expensive College Actually Is."