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Advice for Families of New College Students

August 7, 2017

Editor’s Note: For advice on handling the move off to college, we turned to Maura Mulligan, director of the Center for Wellness and Disability Services at Wentworth Institute of Technology, who shared the following information.

Parents are more involved with their college-aged children than ever before. In part, due to advances in technology, many parents and their college-aged child are communicating multiple times a day while the student is off at school. Parents know their student’s class schedule, social involvement, and academic progress. That level of communication means that parents can be keenly aware of transition-to-college issues, as they strive to support their child and foster independence at the same time.

Here are some tips to help families in the college transition:

  • Set expectations ahead of time with your college student
    • What grades are expected?
    • How often do parents expect their child to visit?
    • What responsibilities in the home are expected?
    • How often will the student be communicating with their parents?
    • Are they expected to work part time while in school?
    • What budget is planned and how will their student access money?
    • What is the family expectation of behavior related to substance use?
  • Help foster self-advocacy and independence–In college, students need to:
    • Wake up on their own.
    • Manage their time related to assignments and studying.
    • Be aware of the colleges expectations related to academics and codes of conduct.
    • Be able to schedule their own appointments and meetings.
    • Be able to interact appropriately with faculty in person and via email.
    • Should expect a significant amount of time outside of the classroom for academic work.
  • The first six weeks are typically the most challenging for new college students
    • Plan a tentative visit to see them if possible if students are worried about the transition. 
    • Set a weekly (or more) phone call to speak with them and not just text. Parents often can hear in their child’s voice how things are really going.
    • Encourage students to stay on campus on weekends (even if they commute) for the first month. Friendships are being formed and this is important social and connection time.
    • Encourage involvement. Most colleges have clubs and organizations for students to join. Encourage involvement. The more connected a student is, the easier the transition.
    • Encourage proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise. These are key to helping to maintain both physical and mental health.
    • Parents should try to keep things at home as routine as possible. College students will want to come home and still feel they have a place there. 
  • If you are concerned, reach out to the school
    • Colleges have staff members to assist a student who may be struggling. Parents should familiarize themselves with who to reach out to if concerns occur.
    • Have phone numbers on hand for possible emergencies.

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