Advice For Parents of College Students
Sending your child off to college can be difficult. Parents often struggle with establishing new boundaries and the void created by their child’s absence. As an enrollment officer at a private Christian college, I see the issues parents face in helping their children decide which college to attend. As a parent of two college-aged children and one soon-to-be college-aged, I have walked through the college decision process with my two children currently attending college. Seeking advice for college parents, I came across a recent article, “Best advice for new college parents and family members,” by Priscilla Childress. In her article, Childress provided ten suggestions for parents or family members of children attending college. I thought the article was a helpful framework. I would like to advise first-year college students from a parent’s and enrollment officer’s perspectives for the ten provided in the article.
1. Realize that academic challenges are much different from high school
One issue is grade inflation. Students believe their high school has prepared them for college, but they need to gain some skills to make them successful college students. Another issue is course assignment management. In college, professors list the assignments in the syllabus and possibly on the course learning management system (LMS). It is the student’s responsibility to manage these assignments many times without reminders. Many students will need help with both time management and remedial coursework to be successful in college. The best advice for parents of first-year college students is to remind their children that colleges provide services to help them. For example, Trinity College of Florida offers a student learning resource center as a resource for students struggling to adjust from high school to college.
2. Understand your student might start college to be a doctor….
Both of my children changed their majors after their first year in college. The Department of Education noted that about 33% of all college students change their major at some time in their college experience. College allows students to explore possibilities that might shape their future. As a parent, I wanted to support my child’s exploration of their interests even if I had another viewpoint. Ultimately it is their degree, and they are the ones putting in the effort to earn it. My advice for parents of college-bound students is to be supportive and open to your child’s academic interests. Help them understand the values of an education as well as the benefits and liabilities of career choices.
3. Encourage them to get to know their professors
I spent many years in the classroom before taking a role as the enrollment officer at the college. In those years, student-professor relationships were essential to a student’s college experience. Many of the best teaching moments happened in the hallway and my office, not the classroom, for students who invested the time in getting to know me. Further, getting to know the students allowed me to understand how I could best serve them beyond their college experience by writing references and providing advice for graduate studies.
4. Set expectations early
My advice for parents of college freshmen is to discuss what information you expect from your child. If you are investing heavily in your child’s education, you may want to see the return on investment from their grades. Some advice about college loans for parents is that you may want to talk about repayment responsibilities before departure to college. You may review your child’s expectations of students. Trinity College of Florida provides a student handbook online. We encourage everyone to read it before attending.
5. Talk about communication
Decide early how you will communicate with your child while they are away. Establish communication protocols, such as a day of the week you will talk or text. Let them decide the schedule after they are in the rhythm of the semester. As a parent, Sundays always worked well because my two children were done with weekend activities and were more available than other parts of the weekend or throughout the week. Even if your child is living at home while attending college, it is still a good practice to schedule times to talk to them about their college experience.
6. Know your students will be busy
As a parent, expecting your child to return to communicate instantly is easy. Respecting their college life is the best way to avoid having an angry college student. Colleges intentionally create many opportunities for students to engage in college life outside the classroom. Colleges want students to be busy to avoid homesickness (and mischief!). In addition, many college courses have extracurricular opportunities to reinforce learning. Don’t downplay your child’s business during college; it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to grow spiritually, intellectually, socially, and academically.
7. Send mail!
As with #5, communication is essential. Email may be the way. However, my children prefer texting or talking. Colleges always need help to get students to check and respond to emails. In light of this struggle, I’m not sure email is the best communication tool, but find the one that is best for you and your child, then regularly use it. In place of email, it might be a regular care package with goodies or fun stuff.
8. Don’t rush in to solve their problems
We, as parents, often deprive our children of growth opportunities when we run in to solve their problems. My advice for parents of college students is to be there for them in the process. A New York Times article by Lisa Damour suggested that instead of solving their problems, your child may want you to be a sounding board, provide empathy, or enjoy a vote of confidence, or they want ideas, not instructions.
9. Don’t encourage them to come home every weekend
Your child is learning how to build their life. So don’t encourage them to be at home. Most colleges have breaks during the semester. These breaks provide opportunities for your child to come home.
10. Schedule a visit
Many colleges provide parent weekends for parents visiting their children. These weekends are great opportunities to see the college experience and your child in their new setting. I advise parents of college freshmen to engage in parent weekends and bring goodies for their child and their friends (don’t forget Fluffy, surprising them no matter how inconvenient is always special.) Your child’s college years are some of the most formative years they will experience. You can help them maximize their college experience and your own experience by purposefully interacting with them in meaningful ways.
Anthony Abell, MDiv, ThM
Vice President for Enrollment/Associate Professor of Christian Thought/Adjunct Faculty