Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: How Grandparents Can Help Their College-Bound Grandchildren

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Note: This is an unabridged article I wrote for Grand Magazine.

This is not an article about the college admissions scandal. You’re welcome. Rather, this is about how grandparents can help their college-bound grandchildren. When this topic of helping is raised, providing financial help with tuition often first comes to mind. There are many resources available for grandparents with this intent. For example, in addition to consulting with their own financial planners, there are innumerable online resources for grandparents who want to help with tuition, e.g., (1) (2) (3).

Helping with tuition costs is all well and good, but many grandparents are not in a position to help in this way. The good news is that they can help their college-bound grandchildren throughout their college experiences in ways that do not involve huge cash outlays.

Before I list some suggestions, I want to emphasize that grandparents can offer to help college-bound grandchildren, but the parents have the final say on whether grandparents can help, and in what ways. Some of my suggestions will resonate with my readers, while other suggestions may not feel practical, depending on financial circumstances and the relationships involved.

Before the college experience, grandparents can offer to:

  • Help college-bound grandchildren locate and pay for online or classroom or phone or one-on-one tutoring for SAT and/or ACT courses (college admissions tests).
  • Be a chauffeur or travel companion: go with the grandchildren to check out colleges of interest and/or those recommended by their guidance counselors. There may be times the grandchildren’s parents are not able to visit all the colleges of interest, or they are not able to make repeat visits to colleges being seriously considered.
  • Give frequent-flyer miles and hotel points to help parents with expenses to visit colleges that require travel.
  • Help prepare and follow through on various checklists that help college-bound kids get ready for college. Many working parents will appreciate grandparents’ help, as itemized lists can be quite lengthy. For example, this one checklist contains 35 actions items. This other list of 110 items focuses on items needed for the first year, if living on campus.
  • Take the grandchildren shopping and/or help them with online shopping for items they know they’ll need.
  • Assist with the purchase or lease of a car, if they will be commuting. Everyone wants the piece of mind that the young adult heading off to college will be driving a safe vehicle.
  • Offer to make introductions to friends and colleagues who might be able to be a resource. For example, alumni who can talk about their experiences at a particular college or assist with appropriate introductions or write letters of recommendation.

During the college experience, grandparents can offer to:

  • Be an available resource to provide any items the grandchild forgot or didn’t realize he/she would need, e.g., a printer to save time running back and forth to the library, a shower caddy.
  • Help with unexpected and/or “treat yourself” expenses. Examples include: setting up an account at the college bookstore and contributing to it, making a deposit into the grandchild’s PayPal account, sending a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
  • Send care packages, either ones prepared by the grandparents with snacks and sundries or use a company that specializes in packages for college students, e.g., CarePackages.com, Package Penguin, Hip Kits. Some let you customize items to be included.
  • Volunteer to visit the school. Of course this isn’t always practical, but an offer to visit and take a grandchild and his/her friends out for brunch or dinner may be appreciated. Or, if the grandchild is on a team or participating in some activity, offer to attend. (Assure the grandchild that you won’t hug and kiss him/her in public!)
  • Be a background presence. Send texts or emails with family news and photos. Always end by saying, “No need to respond. Just want you to know we’re thinking of you.” This is more apt to get a from-the-heart response than by letting it be known that a response is expected.

After graduation, grandparents can offer to:

  • Help the new graduate to be financially aware and responsible. Give a graduation gift of a meeting with a financial planner, and if possible, perhaps include some cash to fund the graduate’s financial plans, e.g., pay off loans, start a savings and investment plan. There are many books available (1) (2) that might help a new graduate learn about money matters. Another website, sponsored by Michigan State University, provides several personal literacy resources that recent college grads may want to check out to get off on the right foot financially.
  • Share your personal and professional network. Most recent college grads will be in job-search mode. If you can, help them with contacts you may have who can help them with any of the steps of their job search, including, how to: research job opportunities; write a resume or CV (curriculum vitae); leverage social media; apply for jobs; prepare for interviews; respond to job offers.

Keep the grandchildren’s parents in the loop

These, then, are a few suggestions for how grandparents can help their college-bound grandchildren in ways that do not involve tuition payments. Whatever ways grandparents hope to help, it is important that they check out their ideas with the grandchildren’s parents first. This ensures that the grandparents’ efforts are not viewed as being intrusive or crossing boundaries, but rather, are viewed as helpful and welcome by both the college-bound grandchildren and their parents.


Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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