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Support for Your Far-Away College Student

Vicki Nelson

What do you do if your student has chosen a college hundreds or even thousands of miles from home? There are challenges, but with extra effort and advance planning you can help your student feel your support even across the miles. And even from a distance you can celebrate your student's accomplishments as well as their growing independence.

Staying on Campus Over Breaks

One situation your student may face is a long weekend or vacation when most other students head home but they can’t. Help them think through the basics: How will they feel? What will they do?

  • Will the residence halls be open over the break? (The RA is a great resource for this kind of information.) Are dining halls open? If staying on campus isn’t an option, start early to make alternate plans.
  • They should be sure their friends know they aren’t going home. Someone more local might extend an invitation to go home with them.
  • Encourage them to seek out other students who are staying on campus. They can make plans to do something fun together — go sightseeing and get to know the area.
  • Find out whether the school sponsors special events for students remaining on campus.

Travel Arrangements

If your student plans to come home for a break, encourage them to start early to arrange transportation.

  • Will they take public transportation — plane, train, bus? Look at timetables, costs, make reservations, etc.
  • Investigate whether the college has a Ride Board or Facebook page where students can find or offer rides.
  • The college may provide shuttles to local airports, train and bus stations.
  • Be sure to check the academic calendar and exam schedules before booking tickets.


Many students successfully complete four (or more) years of college without a major emergency. Just in case, are there friends or family close by who would be willing to serve as a local safety net? It will give you peace of mind to know someone is available in a pinch.

Be sure that:

  • The college has the name(s) of the local emergency contact.
  • Your student is comfortable with the contact person. If it’s someone you know well but your student doesn’t, try to arrange a meeting or suggest that the person visit campus over Family Weekend or some other time.

Special Events

If your student is participating in a special event on campus, this is when you may be most disappointed that you can’t be there in person. However, you can remind your student that you’re thinking about them.

  • Tell them how proud you are. Mail a card or handwritten note.
  • Send something special to arrive on the day of the event — flowers, a gift.
  • Find another family who is attending and ask them to “adopt” your student. Can they take them out to dinner, or send you a photograph?
  • Ask your student to arrange for a video of the event. When they get home, they can narrate the highlights for you.
Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She has also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, in 2009 to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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