The end of one year always comes with an opportunity to rest and reflect on what we are grateful for and what we wished we had done differently. And as I sit here doing just that, I cannot help but think about my own kids and my students–what they experienced, what they wished they had known or prepared for, and what worked out for them.

My oldest, for example, graduated from college and started a life on her own (well, almost on her own) and the youngest decided to change majors, but still has not figured out what he wants to do as a career. I have had long talks with first-year students about making good choices now to help them when they graduate, and I have counseled college seniors who started panicking two months before graduation that they didn’t know how to look for a job.

These experiences–both mine and these college students’–have allowed me to reflect on what I wish parents knew about what is going on and how they can help them through the transition to college, through a change of heart over a major, and on their way to becoming a “real adult.” Here are a few things that you can and should talk to your own student about and perhaps take this end-of-year reflection time to set some goals for the year to come:

  • Talk about money. Yep, there is no getting around having a formal, in-depth, real-world talk about how much it takes to live. We started the talk early, so our own kids were not overwhelmed by how expensive life is, but I have be honest:  Our oldest was a little anxious about how she was going to find a job and take on the expenses that we had covered for 22 years. You may want to start small by having them create a budget that works for them now and then work your way up to spending, saving, and even investing.
  • Polish the resume. If your student does not have a resume or an updated resume, set a goal to get that done. This is a good time to record what they accomplished (e.g., joined an organization, volunteered at the food bank, or made the Dean’s List) over the past year and to set goals for the next year. Maybe they need to find a part-time job that can help them build soft skills or maybe they need to apply for internships in the summer.
  • Explore careers. There is no time like now to explore careers. Even students who know for sure what they want to do should take time to talk with people in the field, shadow employers, and do some research on how much careers pay. For those who have no clue–and many of my students are in this boat–start the conversation now about what they like to do, what they would do if they didn’t have to worry about how much money it made, and what others have complimented them on. Trust me: talking about careers regularly can help your student think more about what they need to do to land a good job after graduation (Notice I didn’t say “dream job.”)
  • Develop networks. The saying “It isn’t what you know, but who you know” sounds like a relic of a bygone era of good-ole-boy-ishness. Well, it is still true to some extent, but it may be more like “It is what you know and who you know.” Yes, your student should learn all they can in their classes and the experiences they have outside of their classes, but they should also be developing networks of peers (future co-workers and bosses), mentors, and professors (people who can vouch for them, recommend them, and refer them). The more people in the network, the more advice and opportunities can come their way.

Don’t feel like you have to have all these conversations at once, but make a plan (or a goal) to visit them throughout the new year. Your student (and their mentors and professors) will thank you for talking about these important topics with enough frequency that the anxiety that often comes with them will be less!

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