It may seem as if you were just hugging your children goodbye while dropping them off at college, but Family Weekend will be here before you know it.
If you’re a first-time college parent wondering what to expect, the best way I can describe Family Weekend — and this might not help unless you went to sleep-away camp or your kids did — is to compare it to camp visiting day. Your student will be excited to see you, show you around campus and introduce you to their new friends. They (most likely) will have cleaned their room and made the bed, possibly for the first time since you put those brand-new, extra long sheets and comforter on it on move-in day. Although they might still be a little homesick, they’ll have settled into a routine and should appear more confident than they were a month or two ago.
Here are a few more things about Family Weekend that it’s helpful to know as you make your plans.
Book a hotel early
Make hotel reservations quickly if you haven’t already. My family generally books a hotel by late spring or early summer. Not only will half the student body have visitors who need hotel rooms but there may be other area schools with the same Family Weekend.
Ask your student whether they’d like to join you at the hotel. Our oldest son stayed in his dorm room because he planned on going out after we went to sleep, but our middle son prefers staying with us at the hotel — he appreciates a night in a quieter and cleaner environment than his residence hall.Check the weather forecast before you leave so you’ll be able to dress for it, especially if you’ll go on campus tours, attend outdoor athletic events, etc.
Stuff from home
If your student needs items from home, particularly warmer clothes now that fall is approaching, this is a good opportunity to deliver them. You may be able to hold off on winter jackets, boots, gloves and hats until they come home for Thanksgiving (or avoid them altogether if they go to school in warmer regions).
During your Family Weekend visit, plan on taking your student to the grocery store or Target to restock the dorm room fridge, grab some toiletries or school supplies, and whatever else they’ve realized they really need to make the dorm room comfortable.
How much time should we spend?
Although some schools kick off Family Weekend as early as Wednesday or Thursday (and run until Monday), we found that arriving Friday and leaving Sunday morning was plenty of time for visiting our son in the Midwest and, for our middle son, who attends school near Boston which is a quick three hour drive from our home, staying for just one night was fine. If you have younger children, as we did, their school schedules may also factor into your time constraints.If you have time on your own without your student, consider renting bikes to explore the campus and town.
Look for special Family Weekend offers at the campus bookstore and local businesses.
Be aware that Family Weekend might coincide with studying for midterms and your college student may not be able to spend as much time with you as you like. They may also have sports events, musical rehearsals and performances, a work shift for a campus job or other obligations. Check in about their classes and whether they have an upcoming test or paper due date, and don’t be hurt if they need to work. There will be plenty you can do on your own and you’ll have quality time together as a family over school breaks.
The official schedule
The college will mail or email a schedule of events that may include activities on campus as well as in the nearby town or city. The schedule should also be available on the website and you can pick up a printed copy when you arrive on campus.
You may only have time to do a few, or even none, of those events. My family always fit in some local sightseeing and it was fun to be tourists in a part of the country I hadn’t visited before.
Other things that might be happening on Family Weekend:
- Open houses and receptions hosted by academic departments and student organizations
- A talk with the college president or other campus leaders
- Receptions for alumni parents and families
- A football game plus other sports events
- Choral society and a capella concerts
- Panels about study abroad, financial aid, etc.
- Campus and museum tours
- Open classes (if you are there on Friday)
I recommend taking the lead from your student and allowing them to arrange the program. Our children generally wanted to have meals with their roommates and their families, as well as their fraternity brothers and families. It can be challenging to get seating for a large number of people — if you haven’t already made restaurant reservations, try to book something as soon as you get there. We always asked our sons to also invite along any friends who did not have family able to visit and I have to say that they were always extremely appreciative.If your student attends a school with a Big Game, be sure to buy tickets in advance and make a plan for parking and tailgating. Leave extra time and double check what is and isn’t allowed into the stadium — rules are strictly enforced. If your student has a season pass, they will have to sit in their designated section or you’ll need to purchase a ticket if you’d like them to sit with you.
It’s their turf
It’s important to remember that you are on your student’s turf now and to act like gracious guests. Our oldest son’s fraternity held a wine and cheese event for families and I was touched at the effort the boys made, buying wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. I did my best to ignore the sticky floors, leaking ice machine, and faint smell of beer. It was my son’s first attempt at hosting and I really enjoyed the get-together.
We attended Family Weekend twice for my older son and this will be our third time for our middle son. Some families stop going after the first year and some go every year. Cost and convenience are a few of the factors that dictate what you do. Some families choose an alternate weekend to visit; it’s up to you and your student and there really is no right or wrong. You will certainly avoid the crowds if you visit at a different time.
When it’s time to say goodbye, your student may have mixed feelings — sad to see you leave but also eager to resume their college life. Keep the parting short and sweet. When we left my oldest son after his first Family Weekend and headed to the airport, I thought he looked a little forlorn and texted to let him know what a wonderful time I’d had and that I would miss him. His return text, which I will never forget, said, “Thank you for coming. I will miss you more than you know.”
- Some first-year students are still struggling to adjust. If homesickness is a challenge for your student, read this article before you travel.
- If you’re not able to attend Family Weekend, this may be harder for you than for your student. Encourage them to accept the invitation if a friend/roommate’s family wants to include them in dinner or an activity. Think about sending a care package to arrive right before the weekend with treats from home and a long, newsy letter.