Leaving Home for College
College is an exciting and terrifying time for a teenager. Selecting which colleges to apply to is likely the first major decision your children will make as they step closer to independence and adulthood. Your child may decide to attend college out-of-state. Even if they select a college nearby, they may live in student housing. For many, this is the first time they have lived away from their parents and the comforts – and familiarity – of home.
For children of divorce, they are leaving two homes. Even if one parent has sole custody of their child, their child presumably has another room in their other parent’s home. In addition to their physical home, every college student ultimately leaves a stable routine behind. Your child must do the same.
Be Their College Guide
Selecting a college can be as difficult for parents as it is for their child. As a parent, it may be tempting to pressure your child to attend a school that is nearby. You should avoid this as this is your child’s chance to spread their wings. It is important that they are given the opportunity to explore their options. As parents, your role is to guide – not dictate. After your child has decided on the type of school that they would like to go to, they should choose three or four colleges to visit in person.
Who Gets to Go on The College Tour?
One or both parents should accompany your child on these tours. Your experience helps them ask the right questions. You can assist them in their decision-making process discussing both the positives and negatives of each school. Deciding on which parent should be able to accompany your child to visit colleges can be more difficult than you think. Hopefully, divorced parents have forged a civil relationship since their divorce has become finalized. If this is the case, then it may just be a matter of choosing an even number of schools to visit and divvying each school visit up.
Even if you and your ex do not have an amicable relationship, there are certain facets of going on a college tour that you both can agree on. The amount of money and time you would have to spend to take your child on multiple college visits can be extensive. That is why it behooves two divorced parents to split the time and cost of college visits. Additionally, each parent may provide a different perspective on the college experience. The tours are also an opportunity to address their child’s fears about leaving home.
A child considering their parent’s alma mater may want to tour with that parent since they have personal experience attending that university. The parent may be able to introduce them to faculty and others on campus.
Touring A College
We can buy nearly everything online. Unlike a pair of shoes, you can’t box a college back up and return it. But like that pair of shoes, a college may look attractive and sound great in the description on their website, but may not be a good fit once you see it in person.
A virtual tour of a college is no substitute for exploring the institution in person. Human beings physically process what they see around them. Visiting a college in person can lead your child to have a “gut feeling” about a school in particular. It is a combination of past experience and emotion. Dr. Deepak Chopra, who studies the chemistry of the brain, explains that “Your gut makes the same chemicals that your brain makes when it thinks.” Walking around the campus, meeting with the admissions counselor, and talking to other students provides information that you can’t get through a computer.
A College Close to Home
Don’t be surprised if your child decides to attend a nearby college. 72% of college students attend institutions in their home state. The lower tuition for residents is a major reason. However, there are a lot of positives to staying close to home, including:
- The campus may be close enough for the child to live at home. (Saving even more money.)
- For children with chronic medical issues, they can continue to see the doctors who are managing their condition.
- The student can continue to attend family events and religious services. This promotes stability in the child’s life. This is particularly important if the parents recently divorced. It takes at least one to two years for a child to adjust.
You and your ex-spouse may have different views on the value of moving away to college or staying close to home. Follow your child’s lead. Your child may feel more comfortable attending a local community college for the first two years. This gives them time to gain the confidence to finish college farther away from home.
Paying For College
After you have visited a college with your child, you and your ex must decide how you will pay for your child’s education. In Illinois, a parent who is divorced may still be required to pay child support if their child attends college or another post-high school education vocational school. In states such as Colorado, this is not the case. If you live in Illinois and your original divorce agreement did not include post-high school education fees like books, room & board, and tuition, you can have your divorce agreement amended even if it has been a long time since you have gotten divorced. It will be up to the judge to decide whether you will receive child support payments that will go towards their post-secondary school education. Ultimately, you will need to prove your case to the judge such as your financial situation and that your ex has sufficient funds to go towards paying your child’s tuition among other added costs such as registration fees and medical insurance while your child attends school.
The Big Decision
Selecting a college is a big decision. Divorced parents should work together to guide their child through the process. College tours are critical to helping your child determine which institution is right for them. This is also your chance to spend time with your child before they head off into the adult world. Don’t miss it!
Cate Humpage with Manassa Hartman, P.C., specializing in providing family law and divorce legal services to people in Illinois.
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