The summer before your student heads off to college is an interesting, exciting, and stressful time — both for your soon-to-be college student and for you. It is a time of beginnings and endings, of leavings and goodbyes, of new adventures, of things to do, people to see, decisions to be made, and time to be spent dreaming and reflecting. It all adds up to a good bit of tension and stress.
For many college students and their families, the stress comes, in part, from the unknown — or from the imagined. As parents, we wonder what our students are thinking and planning. Students may wonder what lies ahead, but not be sure what kinds of things they need to be thinking about — or how to plan. We’ve written an earlier post about students’ goals and action plans which may help give some students direction.
Sometimes it’s all about asking the right questions. We’d like to suggest eight possible questions for parents to ask their college bound students over the course of the summer. We have some additional, more practically oriented questions in earlier posts, but these questions are more reflective. Of course, we don’t recommend that you sit your student down and hit him with a barrage of questions. And most parents may not want or need to ask all of these questions. But consider weaving some of these into your summer conversations as a way to help your student reflect on some key issues, think about how to be in control of his college experience, and as a vehicle for you to get to know your student in a new way.
- Why are you going to college? Many students are headed off to college because it is the next thing to do. They have finished high school and know that college is next. Ask your student to think about her reasons for going. This will help her think about her goals and may help her think about a plan to make those goals happen.
- What are you most excited about as you head to college, and how will you make it happen? Asking your student to share his excitement will not only let you share that excitement with him, but will help him define his expectations. It may be a new idea to him that he can take some action steps to make it more likely that he will have a positive result. Help him find ways to make things go his way.
- What are you most worried about, and what can you do about it? Most students heading to college for the first time have some concerns or worries. Not all students are able to clearly identify and articulate those worries. Helping your student pinpoint and face those worries may be an important first step in helping him to overcome them. Naming and facing his fears is a start to a plan to counteract them.
- What are your goals for the first semester of college? More general questions are helpful, but it may also be helpful to your student to narrow the focus of her thinking to just the first few months of college. What does she hope to accomplish in the first semester? Does she have a goal for grades? For choosing a major? For playing time in a sport? Defining immediate goals will help her think about what she can do right away to accomplish something immediate.
- How do you feel about leaving home and moving away to college? What emotional challenges do you think you might face? Your student may or may not be willing to share with you how he feels about leaving home. But encouraging him to identify and validate his feelings will help him to control the process of leave taking. You may want to share some of your feelings as well. It might also help you both to think about when and how often your student expects to visit home.
- How do you plan to deal with the inevitable stress that comes along with college? As wonderful as the college experience will be, it definitely comes with a certain amount of stress. That stress may be academic, social, health related, financially related, or caused by any number of things. Those students who are not prepared for some stressful times, who aren’t prepared for dips in the experience, will not be prepared to cope with it. Help your student think about what might cause stress and how she plans to handle it when it does come.
- How can you help me not to worry about you? Yes, this question may be for your benefit, but it will remind your student that you, as a parent, will worry about him. It is a natural thing to do. This may be a good lead into a discussion of how and how much you plan to communicate. Or it may lead to a discussion of FERPA and whether your student will share information about his academic progress with you. Be sure that you share with your student any areas of particular concern. What are the things you will worry about most?
- How can I help . . . no, really, how can I help? Your student needs to know that you are ready to help when he needs it. This may seem obvious, but because it seems so obvious, we, as parents may not say it enough. Of course, we need to be ready for whatever the answer turns out to be. Perhaps you’ll be asked to pack, or shop, or do practical things, but more likely, you may be asked to give your student some space. Just make sure that he knows that you are there — wherever, whenever.
Good conversations with our students on the threshold of this transition may be difficult to come by. Your student may not be ready immediately for these purposeful, reflective questions. Choose your time and place carefully and keep listening to what your student has to say.