Best advice for new college parents

Best advice for new college parents

It’s that time of the year again…back to school! Always an exciting time in the household. This year is different. You’re about to be the family member of a college student.

Think about that for a moment. You’ve done your job — you’ve raised a young adult who is ready to take on this new experience called college. Now it’s time to partner with the school they’ve chosen to offer support that will help them be successful while letting them grow into a strong, independent adult.

Here are a few pieces of advice I would like to share to help this transition:

1. Realize the academic challenges are much different from high school.

They will have to study harder and independently. Remind your student of the many resources on campus to help them be successful. These resources include tutoring centers on campus. Many students think the tutoring center is not for them…it is! The center offers tutoring in most subjects from math to biology to writing an effective paper. Remind your student that the syllabus they got on the first day of class will be their friend. Encourage them to make copies of the syllabus from each class, post copies in their room by their desk and make a binder for their classes with their syllabus as the first page.

See our “Academic success checklists for students and parents” for more great suggestions.


2. Understand your student might start college with the goal of being a doctor… and may end their four years with a degree in communication.

A high percentage of students change their majors and their goals as they go through college. Support your student as they explore opportunities and possibly work through the process of changing a major. It’s all about your student.

3. Encourage your student to get to know their professors.

They need to introduce themselves to the professor, ask questions and take advantage of the office hours professors set aside just to talk to students. The professor can be a vital player in the life of your student and down the road, a reference as your student applies for internships, jobs and perhaps graduate school.

4. Set expectations early.

Discuss what information you want your student to share with you. What do you expect from their grades? Do you want them to have a job during the school year? Review the Student Code of Conduct. Will they share the tuition statement from the college with you? Having these conversations early can head off future trouble. For more transition talking tips, click here.

5. Talk about communication.

It’s a funny concept, right? Talking about talking. But it’s an important subject to bring up before your student heads off to college. Will you set up a certain time of the week to talk? (Sunday is often the day students love to talk to their family.) Will you text more than actually talk on the phone? Discuss your expectations.

6. Ask open-ended questions.

You remember those dinner table conversations — “How was your day?” “Fine.” — and how you learned nothing from the exchange. Ask questions that make them have to share more with you. For example, “What have you enjoyed about the transition from high school to college?” You find out more information with these questions, so try to utilize them when possible.

Sending a student to college is a wonderful time for you and your family. Bask in your student’s success and enjoy the view of their life at college!

7. Know your student is going to be busy.

With their school work, extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends and hopefully, sleeping, time is tight in their schedule. Realize they aren’t ignoring you or putting the family on the back burner, they are finding their place and learning to balance multiple responsibilities.

8. Send care packages, letters and postcards.

Mail reminds your student you support them and are thinking about them. Encourage other family members to write also. Students love opening that little bitty mailbox and pulling out a letter from home or, better yet, a slip of paper telling them they have a package. Food, money and photos of pets are top care package requests (surprising, right?).

9. As easy as it can sometimes be, don’t rush in to solve their problems.

Now is the time for them to be independent and learn they have to take responsibility for their actions. Listen, offer suggestions, and steer them to campus resources. Let them know you have confidence in their ability to handle any problem. Most college campuses have a counseling center available to the student. Refer them to the counseling center because sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who isn’t a relative or friend.

10. Build an adult relationship with your student.

For the past 18 years, you’ve probably shielded your son or daughter from some of the realities of life. Now is a good time to start building a new relationship with your student. Tell them about your job and its ups and downs, your hobbies, and share your plans for the future. Sharing your life with your student makes them feel involved and still connected to the family.

11. Don’t encourage your student to come home every weekend.

Students need to acclimate to the campus culture, get involved (vital to their success at college) with activities that stir their passions, and connect with the new people surrounding them. Plus they usually have homework and should prioritize studying.

12. Make plans to visit.

There is a flip side to this. Don’t surprise your student! If you do, they might have plans, and more than likely they would like to clean up before you get there (yes, there will be piles of laundry everywhere). Take advantage of events the college hosts for family members. Family Weekend is a great time to be on campus, take part in the activities planned for families (less for you to worry about), and see how your student has become part of the campus. Make your plans to attend now!



Priscilla Childress

Priscilla Childress has worked with Parent and Family Programs for a decade and currently serves as Assistant Director of New Student and Family Programs at Missouri State University. A longtime CollegiateParent advisor and contributor, Priscilla is the mother of two college graduates. Her hobbies include writing, traveling, gardening and hiking.

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  • We're so glad you found the list useful and hope your son is having a good adjustment to college!