Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sue Scheff: College Students Living at Home

Especially during today's struggling economic times, many students are living at home during their college years. Read more about this topic and some parenting tips.

College Students at Home

“My dad pretty much said, ‘Okay, you don’t have a curfew, but you need to call in, and we need to know what’s going on.’”

– Lisa, 21 years old

Students will borrow 75 billion dollars this year to attend college. That’s up 25 percent over last year, according to the Department of Education. With rising costs, more students are finding ways to save money. One example: living at home instead of a college dorm. And for the student and the parents, that can be both good and bad.

Lisa, 21, lived at home her first semester at Georgia State University. She and her dad came up with a new set of rules.

Lisa says, “If I wanted to spend the night at one of my friend’s houses on a random night, on a Wednesday night, I could. I just needed to make sure that I told him.”

Her dad Joseph says, “What I told her was, ‘You are an adult. I’m going to treat you like an adult, and I expect you to act like an adult.’”

Sometimes Lisa forgot to call, sometimes her dad did worry. But there was a bigger problem: Lisa felt she was missing out on college life. Lisa says, “All my friends would talk about everything that they were doing like late at night, hanging out in the dorms, going to different parties and things, and I was at home watching TV.”

College advisors say students living at home should look for ways to get involved in campus life.
“Having a job on campus, for example, is a great way for your friends to know where to find you,” says Dr. Ken Carter, an associate professor of psychology at Oxford College of Emory University. “Even though it may not pay the best, it’s a great way to feel connected with the campus. Most universities have commuter associations, which is a great place also to be involved.”

Lisa says, “I would sit in the plaza a lot, and just kind of watch people walk by, and kind of look at the groups, and sometimes I would go and approach people and try to talk to them.”

Lisa made friends, got a job at the college bookstore, and studied at the library. Plus, at the end of the day, she went home. Dr. Carter says, “Interestingly, their mental health seems to be a little bit better (than students who live on campus) because they have a lot of support from their families. They also sleep more.”

Tips for Parents

A number of college students are making a decision that seems taboo to some students – they are deciding to live at home with their parents. Some of the reasons for this decision include:

■Money saved – If it costs a student $6,000 per year for room-and-board that means a savings of at least $24,000 during the college years.
■Convenience – For many students who live in dorms, moving their belongings during extended breaks can become tedious. Students living at home aren’t faced with this dilemma.
■Lack of distractions – Even the most studious of students will likely become tempted by the seemingly ceaseless string of parties and events that occur on campus life. And while these are not necessarily bad, they are not exactly conducive to a good study environment. Neither are the late-night gatherings in the dorm room next door or the distractions of a roommate, for that matter.

You and your child will need to discuss what option is best for your child in regards to living at home or in a dorm. Whatever decision is reached, it is important for you and your child to discuss your expectations for him or her. According to Dr. Ruth A. Peters, consider covering the following areas:

■What grade point average needs to be maintained before your child may need to consider going to a community college for two years until he or she is ready to venture out again? Keep in mind that community colleges can offer excellent educations, are usually less expensive, and you can offer more guidance and supervision if your child is just not ready to “do it on their own.”
■What are your expectations about going to class and not sleeping in, skipping class and hoping to get the class notes from a roommate?
■How about drinking or even drug usage? Underage drinking is an all-too-common and socially acceptable college practice, but underage drinking is illegal and can quickly get out of control.
■How many credits must the student complete in the semester? Lots of kids register for twelve or fifteen hours but drop to six or nine by the end of the semester. The expectation of the minimum number of credits completed per semester is an issue that should be addressed and agreed upon by both the parents and the child before the semester begins so that there are no ambiguities. Statistically, more kids take four-and-a-half to five years to complete college than the traditional four years – partly due to legitimate changes in their major area of study, but also due to too many wasted semesters when only six or nine hours of course work were actually completed.
■What should the child do if he or she finds that he or she is in over his or her head – either academically (grade or credit problems), socially (too many friends or parties), or emotionally (not enough friends, lonely)? The college counseling center is usually an excellent resource if the college student doesn’t feel comfortable talking to his or her parents about these issues.
Newsweek did an investigation into which students did best in college. Dr. Peters used the findings to create the following list that can be shared with your child and may improve his or her college experience, whether he or she lives in a dorm or at home:

■Students who engage in extracurricular activities are the happiest students, as well as the most successful in the classroom. They seem to find a way to connect their academic work to their personal lives. It may be more difficult for students living at home to get involved in campus activities, but it can be done.
■The most successful kids found “mentor professors” to work with during their tenure at school – this activity led to letters for job recommendations or future references, which become exceedingly important later in life.
■Seventy to 75 percent of the students in the study felt that they needed more guidance on courses to take, extracurricular activities and advice from administrators than they were receiving.
■Time management is key. Most students are not very good at managing their time, and the Newsweek investigation showed that studying in a long, uninterrupted block of time was much more effective than studying in short bursts.
■Dr. Ruth A. Peters, Child Psychologist