Advice for Parents of Incoming College Students

Now that the application season is over or nearly over for most of you (whether you’re a student or parent), reality may be hitting soon…

you or your son or daughter will soon be going off to college.

So even though the tough part is over, the even tougher part lay ahead:

  • Finalizing college plans,
  • Surviving a summer of anticipation, and
  • Moving out.

It isn’t always a smooth process, but I’m here to give parents a college freshman’s perspective on what you can do to best support your incoming college student!

Your student makes hundreds of decisions a day, from what to wear, to whether or not he or she is going to study for tomorrow’s big test. And unless your student is my 14-year old brother, they probably don’t come running to you for advice on every one of these mini-decisions.

But I’ll tell something you should both be running to each other for advice on: College.

Luckily for you, you’re already in the right place! As a fairly fresh-in-the-oven college student, I’ve pretty recently been in your student’s shoes. And my parents were just in yours! They’re more than happy to share with their friends what an emotional roller coaster it can be to have a college-bound student in the house.

Yes, there were in-depth talks, sometimes ending in tears (from both parties). Often the discussion of college seemed to never end, no matter where we were. Finally, we came to the realization that after the long decision-making process, the days spent missing school and work for campus tours, and the not-so-pleasant filing of the FAFSA, I was still leaving the nest.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the pre-college process and all of the fun that comes with it that we forget why we’re actually doing all of this stuff! Parents, avoid this sob story! (And students, don’t be afraid to read this too!)

Here are some helpful hints on how to get your student out of the house the right way!

  • Realize that it is their future, not yours’.

This is probably the best piece of advice I have for parents! I am blown away by the amount of people I’ve met in college who are pursuing a major they hate because it’s what their parents want for them. Or they are too afraid to change their major because their parents have already criticized it.

Trust me, this makes college 200 times more stressful when students are not only seeking approval from their peers and themselves, but their parents. When it comes down to it, your student won’t be successful in a major or even career that they were pushed into. We are most successful in the areas of life we actually enjoy. Please let your student choose what this is going to be! However, don’t forget to:

  • Be the reality checker.

Because our frontal lobes haven’t fully formed yet, sometimes incoming and even current college students need a bit of a reality check. In my situation, my dad was always the parent who had those “reality check” moments with me. One look at a college’s tuition costs compared to your student’s latest bank statement might really change his or her mind about where they want to attend!

Reality checks don’t always have to be brutal though. I’ll be honest, some parts of the pre-college process can be blinding for high school students. We get distracted with thoughts of what we want our social lives to be like, and lose sight of the more realistic things, like if the major we’re pursuing truly fits us.

As a parent, you’ve known your student since birth. You definitely have some credibility in telling your student how you feel about their choice of college or major. Remember that during the college search process, your student will have tons of persuasive facts thrown at them from every school they are looking into. Sometimes you have to be the one who helps them make sense of it all!

  • Know that the decisions don’t stop after move-in day!

I mistakenly thought that the day I accepted my admission to my university of choice, I would only have a few huge life decisions left to make for the rest of my life. WRONG.

As a second semester freshman, I’ve already made more decisions in one semester than I have my whole life. There are so many decisions to make in college: study abroad, internships, summer plans, which clubs and organizations to join, to what classes to take!

I have found that one of the best ways to make a decision is to call home and discuss it with my parents. The key is to let your student talk it all out first, before you interject with comments. A lot of the time, your student just needs to hear themselves list their options out loud to people who truly care about them (and not to mention are older and wiser!)

When stress is through the roof and there isn’t time for a phone call, a simple text reminding your student that you care can take them from a nap to the library, full of motivation!

  • Send care packages!

In college, care packages rival Christmas presents, I’m not kidding. When my whole week has gone up in flames, I have upcoming exams, and I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep for several days, a simple letter or package from the family can turn my entire week around! There’s just something about receiving a package that you know came from your home, or a place you’re very familiar with.

Even if it’s a small gesture of love, like a package with nothing but a pair of running shorts (cough cough, this was my first college care package!) it will mean something, trust me.

All in all, just enjoy this time with your student. You and your son or daughter will only get to experience this unique time once, so don’t take it for granted!

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Kaitlyn Taylor

Kaitlyn Taylor

Kaitlyn Taylor is a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in Spanish. She comes from a small farm town of 1,000 in West-Central Illinois, making the transition to a large campus challenging. At school Kaitlyn is involved with the University’s Women Glee Choir, and also sings in her Church choir and is involved with her residence hall’s Resident Board. She enjoys writing, biking, and volunteering.
Kaitlyn Taylor

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One Response to “Advice for Parents of Incoming College Students”

  • This is a great article and great advice. Making the switch from the college admission process to the reality of having your student in college isn’t always easy for parents. We’re so involved with the process of getting in that once that is accomplished we’re not sure what to do next. You’ve done a great job of isolating a few very important ways that parents can be constructively, yet not overly, involved.

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