Transitioning into College

Keep Lines of Communication Open

  • Stay in touch
  • Show interest
  • Be a good listener
  • Have an open mind
  • Be encouraging
  • Don’t push

Encourage Independence and Responsibility

  • Learn to provide support and a listening ear but don’t try to control the student’s life via long distance.
  • Encourage independent thinking. Help them sort out their thinking process and avoid making decisions for them.

Respect Boundaries

  • It might not be the best idea to just show up at the student’s dorm room on a Friday afternoon. Always call first and arrange time to visit them in their new home.
  • Try to keep a balance between consistent contact with the student and demanding an e-mail every day or phone call three times a week.

Be Realistic

  • Beginning a college career can bring with it many academic challenges. Be realistic about your expectations of grades and achievement.
  • Discuss the student’s new financial responsibilities. Establish limits and guidelines that fit both your needs and encourage responsibility.
  • Keep the student informed about what is happening with family and in the community. Students typically appreciate it when parents communicate this information and often resent it when parents withhold unhappy news, such as a family illness or the death of a grandparent, in order to not upset them.
  • Students love to receive a touch of home. Send “care packages” but don’t just send cash!
  • It is important to make the most of home visits and to maintain a space for the student when she/he comes home.

Be Flexible

  • Allow some room for growth as you negotiate changes in what your expectations are with what the student’s expectations and needs are.

Be Informed

  • Know the campus resources and encourage the student to take advantage of the services available to him/her.
  • Get involved when tearful calls outnumber the others or when other behaviors arise such as frequent illness, excessive fatigue, non-beneficial changes in behavior or appearance, or talk of hopelessness or lack of purpose.

Coping Strategies for Parents

Recognize that ambivalence is normal.

As the student leaves for college you may feel a mix of emotions. You may feel nostalgic about the “early years” or apprehensive about the upcoming separation. At the same time you may be looking forward to more peace and quiet at home or to spending more time with other family members. All of these reactions are normal.

Feel the emotions.

Don’t pretend that you are unaffected by the transition of the student leaving home. A healthy approach is to talk about your emotions with family, friends, or whoever is a support to you.

Pay attention to staying healthy.

Exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep are important to your health, especially during stressful times. If you feel good, you will be able to provide support to the student. Remember that you are a role model for the student who may be experiencing a lot of stress in the upcoming year. If they observe your healthy lifestyle, they may replicate it.

Acknowledge the importance of this milestone.

You have just spent 18+ years guiding and teaching the student to become a productive member of society. Now, it is time to put into practice all that you have taught him or her. Remember that by providing the student an opportunity to go to college, you have given him or her a priceless gift. Take pride in this accomplishment.

Find an outlet for yourself.

Remember, it is normal for the student to become active in a life separate from the family. Don’t take it personally when the student does not have the same time for you, and you have more time on your hands. Consider exploring a new hobby, making new friends, or completing an unfinished task. Engaging in activities that provide new challenges can help you re-channel the energies previously spent on the student.

(Taken with permission from Slippery Rock University’s Counseling Center Webpage, “Tips for Parents of College Students” by Dr. Carol L. Holland)