Tips for Parents/Families of First-Year Students

  1.  Recognize That Your Entire Family Will Go Through Changes… If this is your only child or your last child, you will suddenly find yourself with more time on your hands. Investing in a new hobby or resuming an old one, going on a vacation, or taking a class can help your adjustment to this transition. If you have other children at home, they will likely have reactions to the change as well. It is especially important that the lines of communication with all of your family members remain open during this time of change.

  2. Expect Your Student to Change (But Not Too Much)… Your student will change. You may never understand it, but it is helpful to support them as they try new things and explore different possibilities. Talk to them, have patience, and listen to them. You may see them change drastically within the first few months, slowly over the years, or more likely somewhere in between. Change is natural and inevitable; and it can be inspiring to see your student discover their passions and form meaningful adult relationships. It can also often be difficult. College, and the experiences associated with it, can affect changes in social, career, and personal choices. If you see changes or choices that are alarming or seem dangerous, talk to them about that as well, and encourage them to seek help from campus resources if it seems needed.

  3. Encourage Your Student to Develop a Greater Level of Independence… For example, if your student has a conflict with a roommate or a professor, your natural inclination may be to pick up the phone and try to resolve the problem for them. It is important that your student learns to resolve adult conflicts maturely. Encourage your student to attempt to resolve the conflict on their own first. You can help your student by brainstorming with them about ways to approach the person with whom they are having a conflict. If your student is unsuccessful at first, encourage them to talk to one of the many college staff members for help or advice.

  4. Keep Roommate Relationships in Perspective… It is great when roommates in college become good friends, maybe even friends for life. Many first-year students come to college with a lot of anticipation and anxiety about their living situation, especially about their roommates. However, a friendship with the roommate may not develop, and that is okay. Roommates may even benefit from having separate groups of friends to spend time away from their rooms. What is essential between roommates is respect for one another in the living space and open communication to resolve potential conflicts early. If your student has difficulty, encourage them to talk to their roommate or their RA/NA/CA (resident assistant/neighborhood assistant/community assistant).

  5. Encourage Leadership Activities… We find that students who are active members of student organizations tend to enjoy their college years more and do better in their studies than students who are not involved on campus outside of classes. Joining the College Senate or one of the many student organizations or clubs outside of the college; taking part in collegiate or intramural sports; going on recreation trips; or volunteering for a local social service organization can ease your student’s adjustment to college and provide a valuable co-curricular experience. View a campus-wide list of student organizations.

  6. Choosing a Career/Choosing a Major – Security vs. Adventure… Whether your student wants to be a lawyer, teacher, scientist, writer, Peace Corps volunteer, engineer, business person, or medical professional, ultimately, it is their freedom to choose the best career for themselves. Remember that the choice of major does not always dictate a career path. After college, most adults change career fields 3 times in their lifetime. The major does not always predict the fields that will be open to your student in graduate school. Many graduate schools appreciate a multidisciplinary background. Students can often cover required prerequisites for graduate programs through electives and minors. They will probably perform best in a field that they enjoy and are passionate about.

  7. Grade Point Average (GPA)… There is a lot more to college than earning a top GPA. However, the GPA is important. A minimal GPA is required to be in good academic standing. Also, a low GPA can become a barrier later if your student wants to go to graduate school or work in a very competitive field. Many students struggle at one time or another. If your student is not performing well, you may be disappointed or frustrated. Try to set reasonable expectations and avoid the temptation to judge too harshly. What matters most is figuring out why they are not doing well and getting them back on track. Encourage them to talk to their TA (teaching assistant), professor, or academic advisor as soon as they seem to be falling behind. Encourage them to talk with their academic advisor if they do not feel like they are doing the best in the class to change the grades to pass/no pass. Early intervention is always best for academic difficulties, and encouraging them to use academic support services, such as tutoring.

  8. Encourage Your Student to Access University Support Services as Needed… For example, colleges have Resident Assistants/Neighborhood Assistants/Community Assistants (RA/NA/CA) in university living spaces to help students find their way around the university, answer general questions, plan activities and help residents resolve roommate conflicts. Other resources include:
    • Residential Life Office – Housing Office, Residential Life
    • Programs and Activities Office – Events, activities, resources
    • College Office – Academic Advising, Peer Advising, general questions, and connection to other student services
    • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) – Located at the Health Center, Cowell has its own assigned psychologist
    • Center for Advocacy, Resources & Empowerment (CARE) – All people deserve to live and engage in an environment free from violence
    • Student Health Center – Urgent care, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology, medical advice, referral opportunities, health insurance, & outreach programs
    • Disability Resource Center (DRC) – Help with known and suspected learning disabilities
    • Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) – Academic support and tutoring resources
    • Learning Support Services (LSS)
    • Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS)
    • Student Media - Radio, television, and print publications
    • Student Volunteer Center (SVC)
    • Career Success – Student jobs, career planning, and information on graduate schools
    • Resource Centers – Womxn’s, Chicanx/Latinx, African American Resource and Cultural Center, American Indian, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Lionel Cantú Queer (GLBTI)

  9. Don’t Ask if They’re Homesick… The first few days/weeks of school are activity-packed and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a new student’s time and concentration. So, unless a well-meaning family member reminds them of it, they will probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. And even if they do not tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.

  10. Write, Text, Call, Send a Care Package- Let them Know You Care... But do not hover! Your student may seem distant while they are caught up in the excitement of college. They do still want to know you care and will appreciate that you are thinking of them. However, they will also appreciate some space and independence. So try not to call too often or be upset if they do not call as often as you hoped. That said, each family is different and will need to navigate an appropriate level of contact that works for families and students alike. Take the opportunity to have a conversation with your student to discuss your means and frequency of communication.

View the 3 Tips for Parents Sending a Student to College video

Source: Innovative Educators, 1 Week At A Time video series