My College:
Family Life

An End-of-Semester Wish from a Parent Program Professional

Priscilla Childress

Here we are, the end of the fall semester. Part of me thinks it flew by, but I also feel like time is crawling. The past nine months have been surreal, as we all know. But it’s also been a learning experience, don’t you think?

For me, I’ve learned that I really need to be engaged with my family and friends, and not just on Zoom or FaceTime. Staying in my house for so long was eye-opening. I don’t want to just text someone or email them. I want to call them and meet them for coffee or see them at work. I’ve learned how important relationships are, and that you shouldn’t wait to tell people how much they mean to you. It’s a shame that a pandemic had to teach many of us this lesson.

Another big lesson I’ve learned as a result of my work as Director of Family Programs and Student Affairs Special Events at Missouri State is that our college students are strong and resilient. Faced with challenges every which way they turned, they kept going. Students on my campus are taking finals this week (maybe your student is, too, wherever they are) when no one was even sure if we would complete a full semester. They’ve worn their masks even though it’s not their favorite thing; they’re taking care of themselves and their friends. They’ve learned a different way to take classes. A lot of life lessons for our young adults.

My institution and so many others around the country have stepped up in a time of challenges, doing whatever needed to be done to take care of our community. We've all had to step way outside out the box to design new ways to get things done. I knew I loved Missouri State before March, but the past nine months have made me appreciate the University even more. I wouldn’t want to go through a pandemic anywhere else!

Later this month, on my campus and many others, the Fall graduates will walk across the stage to get their diploma wearing their masks and their decorated caps. Would you ever have thought you'd live in a world where everyone wears a face covering? I sure didn’t. But our graduates have worked so very hard to get to this point in their life. They have so much to be proud of — and what stories they will tell in the future. Maybe they are the first in their family to go to college. Maybe they have faced battles that no one ever saw. Maybe they’ve lost people close to them, or dealt with health emergencies. Whatever they have faced, they have persevered!

So, it’s time for winter break. Enjoy every minute that you have with your student over the holidays. Listen to all they are saying and read between the lines.

Let them sleep…they have worked hard and they need to recharge. Don’t plan every minute of their winter break. (That was something I did when my kids were in college.) They don’t want to be on a schedule — they want to spend time with you, see their friends from high school if they can do so safely, and eat their favorite foods (that you cook for them!).

Here are some tasks and conversations to take care of while your student is home.

1. Complete the FAFSA.

If they haven't already, your student needs to complete and submit the FAFSA in order to apply for/renew financial aid for the 2021–22 school year. Ever college and university has a priority deadline which it's essential to meet in order to be considered for the best possible financial aid offer. So get that done as soon as possible.

2. Apply for scholarships, too.

A wide variety of both institutional and outside scholarships will have deadlines this winter and spring. Scholarships are a great way to make college more affordable. Students should apply for scholarships all four years.

3. Revisit their budget.

Discuss their budget and how it's working for them. Do they need to get a job? There should be on-campus jobs available second semester, and local businesses may be hiring part-time help, too. Talk about how many hours a week they'd like to work and explore options together.

4. Check in about mental health.

Self-care for students is a real thing. College is a big stressor and, in a pandemic, it’s even worse. Your student has been working to keep their grades up, stay involved on campus, and find safe ways to hang out with their friends. They've surely learned a lot about themselves this fall but it may not have been easy.

Remind them that there are resources on campus to help and support them and their mental health. The health and counseling centers, residential life and the Dean of Students office are all staffed by experienced, caring people. Your student can make virtual connections over winter break to prepare for a healthy and successful spring semester.

Let your student know how proud you are of them.

5. Share your own life experiences.

Open up about how you handle the challenges you face. Our students don’t often know what’s going on in their family members' lives, so share with them. They worry about you also.

I so enjoy engaging with parents and families in my job.

Know that, wherever your child goes to college, there is a Parent & Family office and someone like me who will always be happy to hear from you to answer your questions, direct you to the information you're looking for, and support you as you support your student.

I'm counting down the days until my family arrives to celebrate the holidays. Best wishes of the season from my home to yours!

Priscilla Childress has worked with Parent and Family Programs for more than a decade and currently serves as Director of New Student Orientation, Family Programs and Student Affairs Special Events at Missouri State University. Priscilla is the mother of two college graduates.
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