Are Parent/Student College Contracts a Good Idea?

college contract |positively jane

Have you ever thought about contracts? Why we have them or why they are even necessary? Who do they benefit? Who are they for? My husband has had one with every single employer. I always found it pretty weird - didn’t they trust him? But I eventually realized that a contract isn’t a matter of distrust….it is more of a matter of having clear-cut expectations. That rewards and consequences are clearly stated so that there would be no surprises. But why should contracts be for only employers and employees?

What would it feel like to know that you and your college student would have no arguments or disagreements because all expectations and consequences for their time in school have been clearly laid out?

My son, Matt, is one of those people who are crazy smart - in fact, too smart (if there is such a thing). If he did not grasp the concept in 10 seconds or less (exaggerating here) he gave up and did not follow-thru. Hence his tests results were either amazing or not good at all. His average was just that….average. As a result, his college choices were limited. At the urging of his counselors, he applied to a local college and got accepted. We all thought he won the lottery and we celebrated!

College Contract?!
Don’t get me wrong here - I love my son fiercely. But, knowing my son, and his tendencies to ‘put off today so that he could do it….never’, I was concerned that he would not take college seriously. I was concerned he would think that going to college was a right….not a privilege.

I happened to mention this to a friend and she told me about her college contract with her son. COLLEGE CONTRACT?! Oh my gosh - what an awesome idea. We have contracts at work, in our marriages, with phone companies and cable companies. So… why not a College Contract?

My husband and I discussed what our hopes and dreams were for our son. And, within that framework - what were our expectations of him while he was in college. And, as the people paying the college tuition, we needed to be sure that he knew our expectations and did not play the ‘I had no idea’ or ‘I didn’t know that’ cards. My husband works hard for the money that we have and we did not want it squandered and wasted.

Was the contract a good idea?
As it turns out, it is a good thing we had a college contract in place. He flunked out of his 1st semester in school. We pulled out the contract, showed him how he missed the expectations, and told him we were done paying. Then, we found out that he did not really want to go to college. He only went because his friends were going and he really wasn’t sure what else to do. Wow - if only we had known - a lot of heartbreak could have been eliminated. Not including the money spent that could have been saved. (future post coming soon ‘Should Your Child even go to College’ - stay tuned).

Does a contract make sense for you?
You know your child. Do you think you both might benefit from a college contract? Do you think it might save future misunderstandings? Even if they are already in college it is not too late to draw one up. You can use mine and edit it all you want to. Or draw one up that suits you best.

The benefits of a College Contract are -

  1. Establishes expectations for the following - grades, alcohol related incidents, behavior incidents

  2. Consequences are laid out clearly

  3. Eliminates arguments (my favorite part) - no need to play the ‘But you said’, ‘I had no idea’, or ‘You never told me’ games

  4. Without the arguments, communication lines stay open - this is important when they are living away from home

  5. They might come home more often - If expectations are clear, there will be no need to argue about grades or behavior when they are visiting home, so they will be more likely to visit.

Want to know what we had in our contract and what worked for me?
I have included the exact contract that we used - click on the button below - it’s FREE!!

What happens if the College Contract is violated?
What if expectations were not met and the College Contract is violated - what next? What do you do now? Well…this is the tricky and hard part as parents (If you are anything like me, as a mom, we lead with their hearts). Have you ever heard of tough love — the act of following thru even tho it’s tough and hard? As a mom, I welcomed the opportunities to teach lessons while my kids were home...when the consequences were relatively minor and they could rally and become a more responsible adult. Following through was important to me….but, oh was it hard!

Unfortunately, you need to be prepared to enforce your consequences even tho it will be hard and emotional. Here’s a fact that may just come as a surprise to you: you can do it without all the arguments and fighting. There is nothing to argue about if the consequences are laid out in a contract. A hard lesson has been learned - but one learned while still becoming adults. Even tho they are in college, you are still there to help him/her pick up all those shattered pieces. And the contract violation will be one lesson that will, hopefully, set them up for a better future.

Would I have changed anything in our College Contract?
I have to admit, I really didn’t think that we would need to revoke Matt’s college privileges. I really didn’t think that he would completely flunk out. As a result, we didn’t have any of the ‘living back at home’ consequences laid out before he came home. Once we realized we would need a ‘living back at home’ contract, this is what we established (It would have been better to have included these items initially) -

  1. A full time job is needed. Every day he would get up and look for a job. There is no staying up all night or sleeping in. Job hunting he would do….and apply everywhere. He would begin at 9AM everyday.

  2. Except for food, car insurance and the occasional article of clothing…all expenses belonged to him: gas, car repairs, health insurance, hair cuts, etc. And that began NOW.

  3. Bedroom had to be kept clean. Bed made everyday. Dishes done and put away. Help around the house.

  4. He had to let me know where he was going and when he would be home. And to call if he would be late with a new ETA.

  5. NO underage drinking. None. Ever.

  6. Remind him that the car belongs to me. I own it. The car does not go with them if he should choose to violate this new contract.

  7. The consequences for violating this contact: he can move out and and find someplace else to live (sans car).

As for me - I was totally prepared for action. I was totally prepared to help him pack his suitcases….again. I was totally prepared to help him become a better man. A man of his word with integrity. Not a man of privilege and entitlement. If I could do this, you can too!

college contract|positively Jane

So what happened? After living at home and trying some part time jobs, paying his own bills and realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere, he took a few online classes. Which parlayed into a few community college classes and then he went back to college - with a contract. He proceeded to graduate with a Major in Physics and a Minor in Math. He currently works for the company that runs and maintains all the software for the world’s stock exchanges - in development and trouble shooting. Yes, crazy smart….and one of those anomalies - smart AND personable too! He is very responsible and now follows thru with all of his commitments. Such a good boy and I am so proud of him.

Is a college contract a good idea? That is really up for you to decide. Personally, I think it made us closer. And I am so happy that we had one.

As always, I really appreciate you reading to the end! Have an awesome week!

Big Hugs,


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