Some of my friends are spending this week dropping their kids off at college for the first time, or taking them over to the local college to register for their first semester of classes.
If you are in this position, as well, you may be worrying about last-minute preparations, instructions, and decisions--how to do laundry, paying for the cell phone, where to go for medical care, whether or not to buy a laptop, etc.
Let me add two things to your list. If your list is already full, bump two other things OFF, and put these on. At the very top. Tippy top. As in, it's not even worth going to college if you don't do these two things.
1) If you haven't already taught your child how to work with a syllabus, do so now. RIGHT now. Do not assume high school will have prepared her for this. If she resists, refuse to pay for college. Refuse to pay for the cell phone, car insurance, health insurance, and, like, food, too.
Go to her college's website, find some faculty pages, and see if faculty post syllabi anywhere. If not, just pick one of her classes, and google the name of it plus the word "syllabus." So "Intro College Writing Syllabus," or "World Civ I Syllabus" or "Philosophy For Athletic Trainers Syllabus." You'll get something useful. Try to make sure it's at least three pages long--otherwise, it may be too brief to be of any use.
Print it out, get a calendar and a pencil, and sit down and read through it together. All the way through. Every word. ("Yes you will, or you are NOT even GOING to college. You will not waste my money going to college without knowing how to do this." Practice it now, just in case. Say it with authority.)
Teach her how to transfer assignment due dates to her calendar. If she says, "I'm never going to use a calendar!" tell her "You don't ever have to look at it again. Just do this one planning session with all your syllabi and then do whatever you need to keep your schedule straight. But you MUST do this planning session. With all your syllabi."
Ask her things like, "When it says, here, that a seven-page paper is due on October 15th, how much time do you think you'll need to do that well?" And, "When it says here that internet sources are not acceptable for the research paper, what kind of sources do you think he wants? Where will you find them? When do you think you should start looking for them?" And, "Oh, look--he has a penalty schedule for late papers. What do you think would be better, plagiarizing in order to be on time, or taking a five-point penalty and doing it right?" And, "Does this give you any idea how detailed those lab reports are going to have to be?" And, "Okay, so it looks like you're mainly going to be taking in-class tests for this class. How will you prepare for them? Which weeks will need to be heaviest on study time?"
If there are any paragraphs on academic integrity, read those particularly carefully. If an issue arises, the professor will likely point to that paragraph and say, "I don't care if you didn't learn this in high school or if nobody else has ever called you on it. It's right there in the syllabus."
If you can, get two syllabi from different classes/professors and compare them.
"Oh, look--if you were taking these two classes, you'd have a major paper due in one and an in-class quiz in the other on the same day. How would you deal with that?"
"Oh, look--this one has a penalty schedule for late papers and this one says she doesn't accept late papers at all. That's interesting. What do you think about that?"
"Wow--this one has a lot of tests, but this one has a lot of papers. Which one do you think you'll need to work harder at?"
Try not to ask leading questions. (I know, some of the above were. It slips out sometimes.) Try to ask "How might you do this?" questions. The two most important things, though, are getting a sense of this particular professor's policies and quirks, and learning how to look ahead in the semester so that she's not turning to a ten-page research paper the night before.
This'll take about an hour. Do it. Today. Now. If you're leaving in ten minutes, take those ten minutes to go print off two syllabi and do it in the car. I'm serious.
2) In general, the more familiar your child is with the library, the better he will do. One way you can make sure he darkens the door of the library is to make him get some of his books from it.
Yes, this is a huge money-saving tip, but it's also a Sneaky Mama moment.
"Required Books" are required to have, not required to buy. It took me five years of higher education to figure this out. It wasn't until halfway through my masters program that I realized that professors put required books on reserve so that I didn't have to buy them.
Reserve books would be taken out of regular circulation and placed in a special location. You had to go ask for them, and then you could only check them out for a certain amount of time. They were not allowed to leave the library, unless the professor had specified "Overnight Reserve." This kept the volume available to all the students in the class, but it also had the effect of making us sit in a quiet space for a few hours in order to read it.
No carrying the book around in your backpack, pretending that you'll get to it some time that day. No cracking it for the first time half an hour before class. You plan ahead, because you know someone else might be using it. You feel the pressure to get the reading done, because you have to give the book back in three hours. You find out where the library is
and you use it!
This is not the best system for those expensive textbooks that you use all semester. You probably have to buy those. (Buy them used, if you can!) But if you've got a class with a long list of books, they'll probably only use those books for a couple weeks at a time. Those are much easier to avoid buying.
Inter-Library Loan is another great way to save money. If the book I wanted was already checked out or if it was on reserve and I wanted it for longer than three hours at a time, I could order it from Inter-Library Loan.
Now, this took some planning. I had to order books a good two weeks before I needed them. But I probably got ten ILL books per semester. It was a great way to avoid the reserve system for popular books, or to make sure I had the books I needed for end-of-the-year papers when everyone else was sure to want them, too.
When you drop your child off, no matter how quickly the administration is trying to show you back to your car, do not leave
until your child has figured out both the reserve system and the Inter-Library Loan system. Use the "We can't afford to buy all your books" line to force him to do this. It will save you money. But it will also get him in the doors of the library, which will have a marked effect on his GPA. I promise.
Okay, those are my two tips. Top of the list. Higher, even, than laundry. Go forth and conquer.