Starting college is a series of firsts for students and their parents. Research, campus visits, and the all-important orientation offer data points and examples of what being a freshman means. But there’s no dry run, no drill, no simulation that can fully put a student in a freshman’s shoes and parents in that all but helpless mode of waiting and wondering from afar. There is, though, a simple, free, and effective way for parents and students to prepare, and that’s talking about the college transition.
Discuss Their Hopes, Dreams, Goals, and Expectations
Talking about your student’s hopes, dreams, and goals is a lifelong conversation, one that’s good to have time and again during the college application process and throughout the college experience.
Lofty topics also are a good way to segue into granular issues that define the freshman experience. You also can get conversations going by asking about your student’s expectations when it comes to:
- Leaving home, family, and friends
- Dealing with homesickness, stress, and loneliness
- Conquering academic challenges
- Sharing living quarters with strangers
- Meeting people and fitting in
If you can get your student talking about dreams and fears, you can explore and discuss strategies to realize the dreams and avoid the nightmares.
Discuss Your Hopes, Dreams, Goals, and Expectations for Them
For your child, you hope for the best, dream of grand goals and accomplishments, and try as unobtrusively as possible to help them fulfill themselves. As the parent of a college freshman, you also offer guidance and, within reason, set expectations.
It would be foolish to try to impose academic, career, and life goals, but it’s OK to tell them you expect them to:
- Stay healthy by eating properly, getting enough sleep, and staying on top of overall health care needs
- Make friends and have fun without letting social life hurt academic pursuits
- Hone the skills they need to master college life, from studying to time management
- Spend responsibly and wisely
- Avoid risky behavior that could jeopardize their health and future
- Know how to stay safe and where to go for help, from campus police to clinics
- Stay in touch, keep you informed, and visit home regularly
- Ask for advice and help when needed
Discuss Issues That Are Hard to Bring Up
Some things between parents and children are left unsaid when they shouldn’t be. As college looms, conversations you should have include these touchy topics:
- Intimate relationships
- Drinking and drugs
- Mental health and signs of problems (freshman year is stressful, even debilitating for some)
- Concerns or issues about making it in college, academically and socially
- Parents’ access to personal information such as school records and grades
Friends and family can be relied on to pat anxious parents on the back and make well-intended mention of “the time to let go.” Be advised that experts also warn against letting go too fast.
Discuss Potential Parent-Student Clashes and How to Avoid Them
Just as surely as you will fight back tears when it’s time to say goodbye, there will be a freshman year flashpoint that could have been avoided or defused by setting ground rules and discussing issues such as:
- Spending limits. Where do you draw the line?
- Grades. If parental access to school records is a nonstarter, when should the student advise that there are academic problems?
- Choosing a major. What’s a good target date for choosing, and what’s permissible as far as parental pressure if the deadline is missed?
- Communication. What’s the best way to bring up problems such as too many or too few phone calls? Too much advice or lecturing? Nagging?
- Encroaching on privacy. What are the limits regarding personal relationships or parents communicating with professors and administrators?
- Coming home. What holidays and special events are too special to miss?
- Campus visits. How often? Come unannounced?
You’re sure to run out of time for conversations with your rising freshman before you run out of potential college scenarios to discuss. Remember, though, that what gets said now can head off problems later.
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.