Parents’ Weekend may be your first opportunity to visit your freshman at college. Your first visit to your student’s new home away from home can feel like a momentous occasion. You have an opportunity to be hosted at college by your student now that they have settled in. It is an important step for your college student and for you.
Most, but not all, colleges offer a Parents’ Weekend or Family Weekend — most often scheduled in the fall. Family members (often including grandparents and siblings) are invited to come to campus to visit for the weekend, or for a long weekend. The college plans activities for family members, students actually clean their rooms, at some schools families may visit classes, and families and their students spend important time getting reacquainted.
Why Family Weekend matters
If Family Weekend is scheduled for late September or early October, it may feel as though your student just left for college. For some families, it seems as though it has been forever since they’ve seen their student, and for other families it may seem very soon to be visiting. Colleges often schedule Family Weekend at this point while the weather is still nice, and well before students become involved in midterm exams and the very busy holiday and end of semester seasons.
Family Weekend is a great opportunity to check in on how your student is adjusting to school. Your student may be excited to ”host” you and show you their room and favorite places on campus, have you meet their roommate and friends, introduce you to some of their professors, and generally show you how they fit into their new life. Parents will often leave Family Weekend with a better sense of the experience of being at the school from their student’s perspective, and reassured that their student is settling in.
Planning for Family Weekend
Information about Family Weekend, including a schedule of activities, is usually available on the college website. Parents may receive information about the event through the mail — even as early as the student’s acceptance or deposit. Many local accommodations may be booked months — or even a year — in advance. The longer you wait to make reservations, the further from campus you will need to travel to find a hotel.
Family Weekend events often require advance reservations or registration — especially for key popular events. Also think about making dinner reservations if you plan to go off campus. Everyone may be headed to the same popular restaurants. Don’t wait too long to make arrangements.
Family Weekend events
Visiting with your student during Parents’ Weekend can be wonderful, but can also be stressful because both you and your student may be expecting a lot from the event. Be patient and let your student take the lead in deciding what and how much to do.
Most schools offer a variety of events from which families may choose. Some families will attend many events — staying busy for the entire weekend, while others may choose to attend only a few events and spend more time simply relaxing with their student. Typical events might include the opportunity to attend classes with your student, an open house or brunch to meet and chat with faculty and administrators, an address or reception with the college president, performances by student groups, athletic events, possible events for younger siblings and family members, honor society or award dinners, information panels or discussions, off-campus tours and events. At some schools, Family Weekend may coincide with Homecoming — adding even more festivities to the event.
Family Weekend events are often more widely attended by parents of freshmen, but many parents continue to attend throughout their student’s college career. Each year parents become more familiar with the school, their student’s friends, and families that they see each year. Many families look forward to the visit each year, and actually become quite nostalgic when they attend their final Family Weekend during senior year.
Making the most of Parents’ Weekend
Parents’ Weekend often seems like a very short time, so you want to be able to make the most of it. Here are a few suggestions to help the weekend go smoothly and to get the most out of the occasion.
- Take advantage of the events, speakers and/or lectures the college may offer. This will be your chance to see the college in action — and perhaps to learn some new things.
- Be ready to abandon plans. Although you’ve planned ahead, once you get to campus, be willing to be flexible. Be ready to change plans if the weather doesn’t cooperate or if it feels as though just spending down time with your student would make everyone happier.
- Bring gifts. Students love a surprise — and surprise food from home is even more of a bonus. If your travel plans will allow, bring a few of your student’s favorite home-cooked or local treats to leave behind. (Don’t forget to bring enough for roommates and friends.)
- Be guarded in your expectations. It will be wonderful to see your student. There will be things to do. But don’t expect too much from the weekend. Take it as it comes. Your student may still want to spend time with their friends. They may need some study time. They may not want to talk about every aspect of their new life. It may take some time to get reacquainted.
- Let your student take the lead for the weekend. Your student may be anxious to show you all around campus now that they know their way around. They may want to introduce you to their new friends. They may want to participate in all of the activities — or they may just want to spend time catching up with you. Let your student decide how much, or how little, you try to do.
- Bite your tongue. You may be tempted to make suggestions about rearranging or decorating their dorm room, their choice of friends, their new hair style or clothes. If you can, keep your comments to yourself. This is your time to enjoy being together and get to know your new college student and their school. Don’t spoil it by making judgments.
- Be positive. If your student has had some trouble making the transition to college, having you visit will be good, but may stir up some venting and/or homesickness. Try to keep it positive. Let your student know how proud you are of how they’ve adjusted so far. Focus on the great things you’re experiencing over the weekend rather than looking for possible issues.
- Offer to get your student off campus for a while. Your student might like to take a break from the dorm and stay in your hotel with you. They might like to eat in a restaurant off campus. They might like to go for a hike in a local park or shop at the local mall. This may all be even more important if your student does not have a car on campus.
- Know when it’s time to leave. When the weekend’s activities begin to wind down, be ready to leave. It’s tempting to linger and spend a bit more time with your student. That may be fine, but remember that your student probably has class again on Monday. They may have work to do. They may have plans with friends. Be ready to leave and let your student resume their college life — it won’t be long before they’re home for Thanksgiving Break!
While not every family will be able to take advantage of Family Weekend or Parents’ Weekend, try to attend if you can. It marks an important transition for your student, and is a wonderful way to see your child in their environment and to recognize their growing comfort and independence. By planning ahead, being flexible, and tempering your expectations, you and your student will both get the most out of the experience.