College contingency plans

I’m a big fan of always having a plan B, and having more than one stream of income. You can only control you own actions, and try to have a plan on how you might cope with unexpected events. That’s why we diversify our portfolios, have an emergency fund, and try to think of some type of side job that keeps some money coming in if the main gig goes kaput. The era we’re currently enduring highlights the worth of these principles. So let’s apply them if you, or your nearly-adult child, is in college at the moment.

If you’re returning to campus

I wouldn’t. If we view the recent experience with the Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it’s entirely possible that schools that open will rapidly close down. This means that all the expense of moving clothes and tiny refrigerators, purchasing sheets for the extra long twin that exists nowhere else on earth, getting there, getting a college wardrobe (often for a different climate than where you live), etc., will all be spent again getting out of there. It’s easily hundreds, if not more, directly down the hairy dorm drain.

Nevertheless, I see the desire to get rid of parents/kids and live your life independently. I’ve heard that some students are still renting apartments near campus and using those as a base to study remotely. My concerns, as might be anticipated, are about health (and costs).

  1. Sign a HIPAA form. Without permission, a school or health service cannot discuss student health with parents. Often the school will include these with registration, but double check to make sure one is on-file with the student health service and if possible, with the local hospital and any doctors that the student may use.
  2. Double check insurance. Some types of insurance may not have in-network providers in the campus area. Know what and whom the insurance will cover, and take a list of in-network hospitals and maybe a few names of internists with you. Bookmark the insurance tool that allows you to check whether a health provider is in-network. You don’t want to be scrambling to find this out in an emergency. If your health insurance is lacking, you may want to purchase the school’s insurance, if only for backup.
  3. Where is the nearest emergency room? For urban campuses, there may be a choice and the whole family should know where the student would go (or where EMTs would take them), so that no one has to experience the horror of calling around to find someone.
  4. If you need medical care, how will you get there? What if you’re too sick to drive, or call a ride-share, or even walk to the health service? Does the school have anyone to send to check up on you, or are you dependent on friends (who may also get sick)?
  5. How will you get food or prescriptions? Even well-intentioned friends may not be dependable for three meals a day for many days. They also may not be eager to get something contagious. This is even harder if you’re not living in a dorm with food service. Be sure you know what pharmacies, groceries, and restaurants will deliver, and if it applies, whether they’ll deliver to a dorm.
  6. Have a credit card. Okay, maybe everyone does but these have more protection than a bank debit card. This is one instance where student and parent should be able to see charges coming up as an alert, and because fraudsters are happy to take advantage of the sick, the protections are worthwhile. Even being on a parent’s account builds credit history.
  7. You might need an emergency fly out plan. More than one university closed its dorms while students were on spring break. Students were then faced with returning to campus to clean out their rooms. This would be a really good time, if returning to campus, to take only the minimum with you until we all see whether this is going to work.

If you’re working remotely

Yeah, we’re all climbing the walls. There’s little that will substitute for the chief advantages of learning IRL. You won’t get the spontaneous conversations with professors and students; won’t get a campus job assisting a prof; won’t get the late-night debates about profound life issues; won’t get to meet famous people brought on campus; and will have a much harder time getting drunk and getting laid.

However, actual college study is much more about what you do yourself—reading, thinking, forcing yourself to develop your writing and argumentation skills. In fact, learning remotely is much more about self-instruction, with the advantage of professorial guidance and, most important, personalized feedback—the one thing that is hard about self-instruction. College is a great time to become the person responsible for your own learning. While you may be accountable, and appreciate the accountability, nobody is going to track you the same was as in high school. Even on campus, many people can’t muster the self-discipline, and those people are called dropouts. Work your goals: you’re in control of your learning.

Sure, it’s not what you dreamed of. Sure, it’s tough and you’re missing out. So is everybody. It’s a great time to learn to roll with the punches and make the best out of a bad situation—a most valuable and frequently used adulting skill. Don’t hesitate to get help—you don’t have to “desperately need it”. Therapy or counseling can also be growth enhancing, helping you to a better life. Most mental health professionals are doing tele-health appointments, and many insurance policies will cover those, at least right now.

On the other hand, you might find that you have more time than what you’d have on campus. You’re not walking to class, and you’re probably not going to parties, working, or hanging out in the campus cantinas. This is a great found opportunity to learn something additional—coding, home repair, guitar, adulting skills. My most recent newsletter had a much longer article on these ideas, so email me if you’d like a copy.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

About the author

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Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA

Danielle L. Schultz, the principal financial planner of Haven Financial Solutions, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a NAPFA-registered Financial Advisor, and a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. She studied financial planning at Northwestern University’s Certified Financial Planner™ certification program. She also holds a Series 65 license (Registered Investment Advisor Representative) and a CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist).

She writes a regular column for Better Investing magazine and is currently working on a revision of their mutual funds handbook. In addition to academic training and professional experience, Ms. Schultz has personally managed Social Security, Medicare, retirement and long-term care issues; college funding concerns; and cash flow and transition planning in self-employment and divorce situations. Her social work background gives her an innovative perspective on financial planning issues; for her, financial planning is not only about money, but also a key component in a satisfying and well-lived life.

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