If we are not caught up in it ourselves, many of us parents know others who may be sending their oldest child off to college for the first time. My sister with her son is one; several additional friends also are doing so. One of them is my manager at Principal Financial Group, who said just last week how he told his oldest son to "have fun."

Of course, he qualifies the statement with "... but not as much fun as I had ...," realizing there is, after all, a purpose for going on to "higher education." So it begs the question: If you're sending your kid off to prepare for the world of work, what can you do as a parent to help them get ready? After all, it's a big investment, and you both ideally will want to see a return on that investment ASAP.

Building a career, whether it is through finding a job or starting a business, is driven largely by relationships - not just who your child knows, but who knows them. That takes time to nourish and grow. One metaphor I use often is, "When growing your own food, don't wait until you're hungry to plant your seeds." Well, the truth is we do grow our own food, if it is up to each of us to provide for ourselves and our families. As a parent, here are four ways you can encourage your young college student to do just that:

Encourage them to volunteer. Volunteering is one of the most effective ways to build relationships with people. It runs much deeper than casual networking. Your student's involvement with an organization bonds them to other members or volunteers with that same organization. By working together to reach a common goal, they automatically build relationships with others who can help them down the road. They discover your child's talents, values and his or her character. These are things which cannot normally be accomplished through a single 30-minute "informational" meeting.

Help them find an internship. Many national and local organizations, especially in the non-profit and communications areas, have intern programs. New books are always coming out that detail thousands of these opportunities. If your son or daughter has an interest in a career in which you may have connections, use those connections and see if you can open some doors. If nothing else, it may help your young student get some experience and make sure they are headed down the right path - not to mention build relationships that may benefit later down the road.

Encourage them to find work TODAY. This point is not what it sounds like. Yet, how many of us worked during school? By taking on a part-time job at a company that employs the kind of professional your child wishes to become, how can that not help? When I was in college, I worked for a while as a law clerk. Now, I was not studying to be an attorney, but many clerks I met were. This job paid about the same as a job flipping burgers, but the other rewards were working in an environment in which they were planning to spend most of their careers and connecting with attorneys. It also was the perfect chance simply to get to know some people outside the college environment.

Have them adopt a mentor. Perhaps the advice should read: Have a mentor adopt them. A mentor is usually a professional person at a top-level within an organization who counsels, advises and guides a less experienced individual. By associating closely with someone already out in the field, your young student will gain all kinds of insights that they won't receive in the classroom.

For many students and their families, college is a long four to five years just for undergraduate school - but sometimes it also can be the fastest. Don't let the time go to waste. Help your young student realize that although it is a time to be cherished, it also must be invested. Help them do that.


Keith F. Luscher is a longtime Columbus resident, the father of four children.