Helpful Advice for Parents of First-Time College Students

Helpful Advice for Parents of First-Time College Students
portrait of Stephen Gaffney
By Stephen Gaffney

Published on July 27, 2021

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Going away to college for the first time is a momentous occasion in the lives of students. For many learners, it will mark the first time they have lived away from home for an extended period of time.

But it's not just students who are affected by this transition — the entire family dynamic changes. Everyone in the household feels the impact in one way or another.

Members of the family must learn to cope with the fact that their new college student isn't going to be around as often. For parents, it's a difficult time knowing that you won't be readily available to take care of your child should anything go wrong. For siblings, it can be like losing a close friend.

It might take a few months to fill both the emotional and physical void of sending your child away to college for the first time. Here are some tips to help the transition go a bit smoother.

10 Tips for Parents of Incoming College Students

You don't need to bring everything on the "what to bring" list. Make sure students have all of the dorm room essentials, but don't overdo it.

Remember they can always order supplies online or visit a store should the need arise. You might help them locate local stores in advance.

You can get a good idea of how big the dorm rooms actually are and what they might need during orientation. When your student selects a dorm building, check in advance to see if they offer microwaves and refrigerators.

Move-in day is often a fun and emotional time for both students and parents. Don't miss out on this opportunity to help your student get adjusted to their new surroundings.

You might carry boxes, start unpacking, or help them begin to settle in. You can pinpoint important services, like the dining hall and health center, and make sure they know their way around.

See if the school offers parent orientation programs. These offerings allow parents to connect with staff and fellow families. Orientations also provide numerous resources that will be helpful in the coming year.

Make sure you and your student both know where the closest pharmacy, urgent care, and hospital are in relation to campus. You may also want to seek out a local physician should your student need medical attention beyond what is offered on campus. Make sure your student has a copy of their insurance card and is aware of other campus safety resources.

Though you'll want to hear all about their experience, avoid texting or FaceTiming every day. Giving your learner space will allow them to flourish in their new environment.

You might institute a weekly catch-up call. You want your student to know that you care, but also trust them enough to be on their own. And don't panic if your student doesn't answer every time you call — they're balancing school and social obligations and likely have a packed schedule.

Schedule a time to visit campus when it works best for both you and your student. Surprise visits often result in less time spent together. Plan ahead of time so you can both enjoy the time together.

Clarify financial expectations with your student before they leave for college. Set clear expectations about who will pay for what expenses, and help them set up a monthly spending budget to stick to.

You may also want to think about setting your student up with a credit card if they don't have one already. Credit cards can come in handy for emergencies and, when used responsibly, help students begin to establish a positive credit history.

Be available for your student, but let them figure out how to do things on their own. Remind them that help is always available from numerous sources around campus including fellow students, professors, teaching assistants, academic advisors, career services, and other resources.

Also, encourage your learner to get involved in campus activities. Most colleges have special interest clubs, intramural sports, study groups, and other extracurricular activities that will help them get adjusted and make new friends.

Many college students love getting care packages. Receiving a package reminds them of you and provides them with some much needed snacks to help them get through lengthy study sessions.

With all that's involved in getting your child ready for college, it can be easy to pay less attention to younger siblings. Involve them in the process as much as possible so they don't feel excluded.

Remember that it's probably an emotional and exciting time for them as well. Including siblings in preparations and move-in day can help get them excited about potentially attending college, too.

Feature Image: Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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