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Advice for the parents of first-year students

Southern Connecticut State University

Adapted from an article by CollegiateParent

The best advice for first-time college parents often comes from your own friends who’ve traveled this road a year or two ahead of you.

Here is a collage of tips and reflections to help you navigate the journey ahead.

Academics and residential life

Southern offers a course for first-year students to help them learn how to succeed at college-level work, and your student will get a lot out of it. It’s called Intellectual and Creative Inquiry INQ 101, and it can make a difference in a student’s academic success. Tell your student how important it is to attend every class.

Encourage your student every semester to make the earliest possible academic advising appointment — sometimes the classes they need fill up. Ask about their plan to graduate in four years and stay in touch about that.

Visits to campus...

Let your student take the lead on what to do together over Owl Family Day which takes place on October 20. Mark your calendars! Nudge them to make plans for dinner with the families of their new friends and reserve a table well ahead of time (you can always cancel the reservation).

In general keep visits short, include their friends in meals enjoyed off campus, and take a break from each other during the afternoon. “Don’t take it personally if they’re busy much of the time with other things — enjoy whatever time you have.”

...and back home again

When students come home for breaks they might be exhausted. Try not to travel that first Thanksgiving break. “My son really wanted to see his high school friends, sleep in his own bed, eat his favorite foods, and recharge,” one parent remembers.

Don’t wait to book winter break vacations. But first double check their final exam schedule and find out if they need to go back before the end of break (for sports, for example).

Talk about what it will be like when they come home. “My son assumed that, since he was living independently at college, the old rules (curfew, room cleanliness, family meals, etc.) no longer applied when he came home.”


Show your student how to make a simple budget. Confirm that they know how to do online banking and keep track of debit card charges. If they have a credit card, it’s not a bad idea to set up automatic payment but they also need to understand that they should not carry a balance on that card. “Don’t assume they know how to balance a checkbook. Teach basic life skills!” an experienced parent advises.

When your student is home for break, take time to work on financial aid renewal forms together. Make sure they understand how to complete their own taxes (even if you end up doing most of it for them).

Students can and should keep applying for outside scholarships all four years. “My daughter was awarded a $10K scholarship upon college graduation — dropped the student loan just like that!”

Adjustment and transformation

You hear so much about people’s kids loving college, and maybe you loved your own college years, but not all students feel that way. Many first years come home at Thanksgiving thinking they want to transfer. It can take a semester or two for a student to be happy and feel at home. Some successful students never “love” their school.

Students may need advice on recognizing and referring peers who are dealing with mental health issues. “Mental health of roommates or friends affected both my children — they had to become amateur therapists,” a college mom said.

When winter comes, don’t worry about whether your student has made the transition from flip-flops to snow boots. “If they are smart enough to attend college, they can figure out what to wear.”

It isn’t the end of the world if your student decides to take a semester off. “It helped my son grow up and focus on why he’s at college in the first place.” However, they may need guidance in creating a game plan for their time away.

They may grow beards and get tattoos.

Be ready to be astonished by the pace of their personal growth!

Communication and your role as parent

“Wait till they ask for advice before offering it; listen more than you talk.”

The college can’t provide a 100% guarantee that your student will adjust perfectly, not party too much, etc. Have confidence that you’ve trained them well.

Remember that these years belong to your child and are an important step toward their adult life. They really need to be in charge of solving problems, making decisions and negotiating campus life.

Southern Connecticut State University

Read more by Southern Connecticut State University

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