All over the country, colleges and universities are sending out acceptance letters to their incoming class of undergraduates. It’s an exciting time for everyone involved, but most of us have something else in the back of our minds: What about the money? 

Most families get some sort of financial aid, with subsidized loans being the most widely available. The debate about student loans is multifaceted, and one of those facets is the idea that people don’t really know what they’re getting into when they borrow money. I find it helps young people to appreciate the reality of student loans by quantifying it. 

Personally, I have not worked with any student borrowers who pay less than $400 a month. That’s easily another car or insurance payment. But remember: Whatever snobbery there may have been against community colleges is evaporating as people try to avoid loans. Science majors, especially, can thrive at state schools and community colleges.

While we all know that going away to school is the first step toward independence, parents are often surprised to learn what they can and can’t do once their kids turn 18. Hospitals no longer look to us for medical decisions concerning our adult children — and they won’t release any information to us, either. That is, unless you’ve already cajoled your kid into signing a healthcare proxy, living will, or some other form of advanced directive that appoints you to make medical decisions in an emergency.

There is an educational privacy law that affects parents much more often than HIPAA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) forbids schools from divulging information about the student’s grades or behavior to anyone other than the student. This can be remedied by having the student provide written permission empowering you to have that information.

A first-year undergrad will be surprised by the maze of new, exciting expenses that they’re likely to encounter for the first time. The best way to make this process easier is to establish a personalized spending plan. It’s important to do the initial number crunching ahead of time — with or without your help. They should be tracking their spending and coming up with some long-term goals, just as your own long-term goals come into view.

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