My College:
Family Life

The family transition during college enrollment

Jessica Fitzgerald

When your high school senior received their college admission letter, you were over the moon — excited, proud and relieved. But even in the midst of the celebration, questions began to bubble up. When is orientation and how do we register? What about the logistics of move-in, and class registration? 

And perhaps most important: What does it mean to be the parent of a college student?

Your student is the one making the biggest life change this fall, but the fact is the whole family experiences the transition to college.

Embrace your new role.

Throughout high school, you attended parent-teacher conferences, built relationships with your student’s coaches and club advisors, and hosted their friends in your home. As your son or daughter makes the shift to college, independently creating a life on campus, your role as parent will change. You will step to the sidelines and become more of a coach. Whether you’ve been preparing for this or it feels a bit shocking, give yourself time and grace as you adjust.

  • Identify whether you, your student or both will be responsible for ensuring enrollment paperwork is completed and turned in.
  • Trust your student and their academic advisor to select their courses for the semester.
  • Express confidence that your student is prepared and ready to attend college.

Identify a support network.

Family members focus on supporting their student, which can mean that they miss tending to themselves and their own transition. Your emotions may range from “I can’t wait for them to leave!” to “I’m not sure how I’ll cope with the changes in our family” and everything in between.

Early on, identify a support network that provides a safe space for you to talk through your feelings. If you’re in a two-parent household, recognize that you and your spouse or partner may have different feelings about your student going to college, or experience them at different times.

  • Attend orientation with your student so you feel informed and confident in the school your student has chosen.
  • Identify the office that provides parent and family support so you know who to call if you have questions or concerns.
  • Plan to attend campus events for family members such as welcome activities or family weekend. These allow you to develop a connection to the school and feel a part of your student’s experience.

Celebrate this achievement!

Your support has been essential to your student's success and will continue to be key throughout college. Over the summer, take time to appreciate this achievement as a family. Plan to celebrate with your student, extended family, and their friends. Be sure to discuss any goals or priorities your student has for their summer break so you can successfully manage expectations and honor their wishes.

  • Plan quality time together — a family game night, vacation or favorite meal.
  • Allow space for your student to reflect, grieve, celebrate and anticipate.
  • If your student will move away to go to school, plan something for yourself to look forward to when you return home after campus move-in.
Jessica Fitzgerald has worked in higher education for over a decade and currently serves in the Office of Parent and Family Programs at the University of South Florida. She is passionate about supporting families as they navigate the college experience and coaching them through establishing a new family dynamic as their student enters into adulthood. While most of her time is spent delightfully chasing after a curious toddler, Jessica is also often found on a travel adventure with her family or escaping to a little corner in a coffee shop to sip warm beverages, write, or get lost in a book.
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