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What to Expect
  • Expect change.

    Your student will change. College and the associated experiences associated can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring. Often though, it’s challenging. You can’t stop change, you may never understand it, but it is within your power (and to you and your student’s advantage) to accept it. Remember that your son or daughter will be basically the same person that you sent away to school.


    • Expect that your student will not respond to all of your contacts, but know that he or she appreciates hearing from you.
    • Homecoming, a concert or a sporting event about 6-8 weeks into the semester is an excellent way to reconnect with your student.
    • Give your student the opportunity to share feelings and ideas with you. He or she is experiencing new viewpoints and perspectives that may challenge prior belief systems.
    • Allow your student to explore ideas without being judgmental.
    • Understand that changes in viewpoints, behavior, and dress, eating and sleeping habits, and relationships with parents are all to be expected during the college years.
    • If you suspect that some of these changes may be signs of bigger problems (alcohol or drug abuse, academic problems, etc.), refer your student to Counseling Services at the Center for Health and Wellness.
    • Trust your instincts. Your student may need you to refer him or her to the appropriate resources for help.

    Start with the basics.

    Ask questions, but not too many.

    Most first-year college students desire the security of knowing that someone from home is still interested in them. Parental curiosity can be alienating or supportive depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Honest inquiries and other “between friends” communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-student relationship.

    Don't ask if they're homesick.

    Most of them are so busy they don’t have time to think about being homesick until you say something about it. Adjusting to a new situation takes a majority of a first year student’s time and concentration.

    Expect change, but not too much.

    Your student will change either drastically within the first months, slowly over four years, or somewhere in between. It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring and beautiful.
    College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational and personal behavior and choices. Remember: your student will basically be the same person you sent away to school aside from interest changes and personality revisions. Maturity is not instantaneous, so be patient.

    Write, even if they don’t write back.

    Even though they are excited about their new-found independence, they love to hear about home in order to sustain their security ties with the family. Don’t feel rejected if they don’t respond to every email, IM, or correspondence. Students love to get real mail no matter how mundane the news seems to you.  

    Visit, but not too often.

    Visits by parents (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees or dinners out) are things students appreciate greatly. It's a chance for you to hopefully understand and recognize their new commitments and friends. Surprise visits are usually not appreciated because of heavily planned schedules, but give them notice and you might see a clean room. 

    Don't tell them “These are the best years of your life.”

    The first year of college can be full of indecision, stress, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and exciting people. It may take a while for students to realize that their Hollywood-created images of what college is about are all wrong. Hollywood doesn’t show that college includes being scared, confused, overwhelmed, and making mistakes. Students may feel these things and worry that they are not ‘normal’ because what they’re feeling is in contrast to what they’ve been led to believe while growing up. Parents can help by understanding that the highs and lows of college life are a critical part of your son or daughter’s development, and by providing the support and encouragement to help him or her understand this as well.

    Trust your student.

    College is also a time for students to discover who they are. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing. 

    Continue to have difficult conversations.

    As a parent or family member of a traditional age college student, you no longer have the same control that you once had over your student’s day-to-day life. However, you do still have a tremendous influence on your son or daughter’s behavior. In college, your son or daughter will have to make their own decisions about what time to get up in the morning, when to study, when to exercise, which organizations to participate in, what to eat, whether or not to drink alcohol, how much alcohol to drink if any, and whether or not to engage in sexual relationships.

    While you cannot force your student to behave exactly as you would want them to, you can share your values and beliefs with your student on these topics. Studies show that parents influence their child’s behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior even after their child leaves for college. Provide your student with the facts on these issues, and empower them to distinguish between good and bad decisions when it comes to their behavior, health, and safety. Create an atmosphere of open communication, and your student will not only appreciate that you respect him or her as an adult, but he or she will also be more likely to turn to you for guidance.