As the parent of a college-bound student, you are in a transition period. Big changes are happening in your as well as child’s life. It is an exciting, yet anxious, time for everyone. To deal with the challenges and provide support for your young scholar, consider these parenting tips for the college years.
Start Planning Early
In a student’s junior year, families generally begin talking about which college to choose. This is a lengthy process, involving an assessment of the student’s needs and research about potential schools. A college’s size, location, cost, programs, and other factors should be considered.
Don’t waste your time with a school if its admission qualifications, like grade-point averages and test scores, are beyond your child’s reach. Study college guidebooks and research school rankings. Once you have narrowed the list of possible schools to fewer than five, schedule campus visits and interviews.
Take advantage of admission office advisers, and consider hiring a private counselor trained in the college-application process. The deadline to apply for a fall semester is often Jan. 1, though some schools make their decisions as early as the previous fall. Make sure your child keeps track of these deadlines.
You also can be of assistance in helping to compile the materials that colleges require of applicants. These things include high school transcripts, essays, and various high school records. Most colleges accept a form known as the “common application,” which is available online.
When a child moves away from home, it is an emotional experience for everyone involved. Your feelings may be all over the place, from joy to sadness. You are happy and excited for your child, but also sense the “empty-nest syndrome.”
Be open about these feelings with your son or daughter, and discuss his or her anxieties. Parents need to understand that kids undergo emotional swings during this time, because they are leaving everything they have known and entering uncharted territory. Be sensitive to how this experience can be thrilling and terrifying for a young person.
Prepare Your Child
Upon arriving on campus, a college freshman suddenly has many new responsibilities. In addition to academic and social challenges, there are things that students must do for themselves for the first time.
They have to handle money, and learn how to budget wisely. If your kid has never done a budget, provide some instruction. The danger of overusing credit cards also should be discussed.
Talk about the classes for which your son or daughter has registered. Stress the need to set aside time, and find a good place, to study. Help set academic goals that are reasonable and attainable. Keep in mind that many students struggle with their grades during the first semester, or even the entire freshman year, until they become adjusted to college life.
Provide some practical advice, as well. Even if you have purchased roadside-assistance insurance for your child, make sure to also teach him or her how to change a tire and jump-start a vehicle. Make sure your kid knows how to do laundry, shop for food, and keep a room clean.
Encourage healthy eating habits, while understanding that burgers and pizzas are part of the college experience. Have a talk about alcohol, other drugs, and sex. Your child can benefit from your knowledge and experience.
Let Go While Being Supportive
One of the most difficult challenges for parents of college students is supporting their children, while allowing them to live on their own and become adults. You need to find a balance.
Communicate regularly, but don’t expect to know everything about your child’s new life. You are likely to meet resistance if you pry too much. Experts suggest asking general questions, like “how are your classes” and “are you having fun.” Focus on academics, and your kid’s emotional and physical health. Stay positive and give encouragement, emphasizing strengths and accomplishments. Don’t do all the talking; try to get your child to open up about experiences and feelings.
Most college students freak out at some point. They suffer from anxiety about tests, have tumultuous personal relationships, and become homesick. You might get some frantic emails and phone calls. When that happens, be a good listener and respond with calm reassurance. Help your child deal with problems by breaking them down into simple steps and approaching them logically.
You may feel the urge to call or email your newly departed offspring every day. Resist this impulse, though it is a natural result of the feelings you are having. In addition to a sense of loss, you are worried about how your child is doing out there in the world all alone. You should visit the campus, to provide support, see how your kid is living, and meet the roommate. However, don’t do this too often; and refrain from making surprise visits.
Instead of showing up unannounced, send surprise packages. Cash is always appreciated. You also can mail little things that your kid might not think to buy. Experts recommend toiletries and school supplies. Include a letter about what’s happening with the family, or at least a short note of encouragement.
Stress and anxiety, for you and your son or daughter, are to be expected during the college years. You are entering a new period of your family’s life, which may entail excitement and melancholy for you as a parent. Following some of these suggestions may help you get through it all.