September 6, 2017. By John Wolfsberg

It is hard to believe that summer is quickly coming to an end and with this comes back-to-school planning.  I know that many parents are relieved to move back to a set schedule and familiar routine for their households after a fun yet chaotic summer of car sharing and keeping tabs on the ever changing plans of their teenagers.

We work with many families who have college-age students and these last two weeks of summer are jammed packed with planning and organizing in preparation for their move back to college.  While many may be returning to college, others are entering their freshman year, and with so many new emotions and experiences it can be quite overwhelming not just for the student but for the families and parents as well.

While each college and university may offer slightly different services and programs to their students we wanted to provide an outline of the most common on-campus financial and logistical decisions you and your student will encounter in the semester and year to come.

School Online Access and Logins – Virtually every school has a student portal that your student can (and will) use to access a variety of resources. Viewing grades, tuition bills, meal plans as well as general information. These portals are very important to become familiar with and know how to navigate (not all portals are as well organized as others…I have seen some real nightmares). Your student will have their own login ID and password that will allow them to access all the resources of the portal. As a parent, you will typically have your own ID and PW for limited portal access. A note of caution – as your access may be limited, you may unexpectedly be prevented from performing certain important functions (I discovered this when trying to add funds to one of my daughter’s Student ID cash accounts for laundry machine use and was forced to do so by using her login).

Meal Plan Selection – Many schools offer multiple meal plans…some very basic and some providing 3 meals a day, multiple guest meals and a side cash fund for “café coffee” purchases. Some of the things to consider when selecting a plan are: Is my student someone who consistently eats 3 meals a day or are they more of a breakfast and dinner type with a snack for lunch? Will they be “hosting” friends at school and therefore need guest meals? Will their schedule preclude them from making it to breakfast 2 or 3 days a week? All of these questions should be considered when selecting a plan. Also, many plans have a cash component to the plan which allows the student to use their ID as a debit card for food purchases at cafés on campus (and in some cases participating merchants off campus). It’s important to have your student manage their cash vs meal swipes so that they are not utilizing a full meal swipe when a $2 snack purchase will tie them over. Lastly, while the cash balance on the card (which can generally be re-charged online) can be carried over from the winter to the spring semester it is generally forfeited if not used by the student by year end….therefore, managing the balance towards year end is important.

 On-Campus School Specific Debit Cards – Many schools allow students to use their ID cards as debit cards. In most cases the cards are funded with an initial balance (via the student portal) which declines as the card is used. The card can then be re-charged with funds as the balance declines. The advantage of this type of card is that it eliminates the need for the student to use their bank debit card which may increase the risk that it is lost or stolen. Also, since the student is always (or should be) in possession of their student ID, they will always have access to funds while on campus. The account can be funded with a minimal amount and therefore minimizes the risk of lost funds should the student ID get lost or stolen. In many cases, this debit feature can be used at participating merchants just off campus as well – again mitigating the need for a bank debit card. One important note is that students should become familiar with where this form of payment is accepted before venturing out for the evening.

Laundry Services – It feels like yesterday we were all hunting for quarters to do our laundry. Now, on-campus cards are often utilized to swipe and pay for the machines use and activation.  Many schools offer laundry facilities not only on campus but conveniently within each dorm or townhouse.  While we have seen robust offerings of large-scale rooms with multiple machines free of charge, we have also found that some schools provide very few machines for the number of students within the building.  Many schools also offer concierge laundry services in which the student pays a fee for laundry service pick-up and drop-off on campus.

Room, Dorm and Suite Amenities – Part of the fun of sending your student off to school is shopping together for their dorm room décor and supplies. When making your list, remember many schools may provide common areas with a kitchen, refrigerator, microwave and oven.  Many students will opt to have a personal refrigerator within their room that you may purchase from a local retailer.  Please research the school rules ahead of time as some schools do not allow for outside appliances to be brought and used in their dorms.  You must rent them directly from the school for the year or semester.

The Campus Book Store When gathering the books needed for each class there are options available to students now that were not provided in past years. In addition to simply purchasing the books on campus with a student’s syllabus in hand, renting books, online PDFs and Amazon are now also options for students that can be more convenient and cost effective.  While saving money is great, the potential downfall is that many classes and books require a software code for online registration that is not available in used materials.  These codes have a one-time registration feature to avoid reuse.    Be sure to research the full requirements of the class and what the professor will expect of the student prior to committing to the less expensive or used option.

Transportation – Many schools do not allow their students to have cars on campus freshman year. Therefore, depending upon the location of the school, transportation to the airport, train station or even the local store can be difficult to navigate.  Many schools offer shuttle services or transportation throughout campus for safety when the campus may be expansive in layout and size.  There are also several schools that are partnering with companies such as Lyft for free transportation services within the specified radius off campus free of charge for students.   If your student is older and will bring a car to school research the parking permit fees associated with maintaining the car on campus and where parking is permitted (by way of lots assigned to the students) to avoid parking tickets and fees.

The transition from high school to college is exciting time for our students – a new environment, new friends and roommate(s) and a whole new world of managing time and responsibilities.  Hopefully by being aware of some of the items noted above you and your student will be able to minimize some of the stress associated with the transition and make the move away to college a positive experience. At Centerpoint Advisors we have worked through many of the issues noted above both personally and with our clients. If you have any questions on the items noted above please feel free to call us.