10 Conversations Parents and Students Should Have Before the First Year of College

The summer before your student heads off to college is exciting, busy, and stressful.  There’s lots to do  – forms to complete, finances to consider, orientations to attend, shopping to do.  Your student may have a job and is also busy trying to spend time with his friends.  Communication with your student may have its wonderful moments, and may also be strained. Be prepared. You feel it is your last chance to impart your wisdom, and he is increasingly anxious to be independent.

The process of heading off to college – for both your student and for you – is filled with expectations.  However, your expectations and your student’s expectations may not be the same.  Use the summer months to talk about those expectations. Clear the air – and avoid difficult situations later when you realize that you, or he, made some assumptions. Good communication now will lay the foundation for quality communication later.

Here are ten conversations to consider before your student leaves for school.  Don’t try to cover them all at once, but touch on some of these topics.

What are your student’s reasons for going to college? 

This may sound like a strange question.  You and your student have spent the last several years working at getting into college.  You made the college visits, your student took SAT’s or ACT’s, he planned his high school schedule carefully, you filled out stacks of financial forms, he filled out applications and wrote essays, he waited for those acceptances and wrestled with decisions.  But in spite of all of the work you’ve both done to get him here, have you had a conversation with him about why he wants to go to college?  Does he have a goal?  Is he focused on a major or a job?  Is he looking for a social outlet?  Is he going primarily for athletics?  Is he going to college because it’s the logical next step?  There is no right answer, but it helps to know why you’re going and what you want. As you talk about this question, you may learn a lot about him – and he may learn some things about himself.

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Help Your Student Stay “School Sharp” This Summer

Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer!  We all love them – especially students.  Although many soon-to-be or returning college students may be spending much of the summer working hard to earn money, the break from schoolwork and routine is welcome.  The problem is that all of that summer “laziness” may create some academic “haziness” when school begins in the fall.

Chances are good that your student worked hard during the school year and deserves a bit of a break.  But sometimes a little time spent thinking about school and the upcoming fall semester can give your student an edge in the fall.  Skills slide over the summer and a little work can mean that they may slide a little less.

Here are a few suggestions to share with your student to help her stay sharp and get a little head start for the fall. Encourage her to take the initiative and address potential weak areas.  Just a few hours can make a big difference.

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Book Review – Off to College

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve offered some recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. See the Recommended Reading section of our Resources page for more suggestions.

There are many good books out there for college parents and we recommend several of them.  But Off to College: A Guide for Parents by Roger H. Martin is a bit different.  Dr. Martin has served as a professor and college president, but more important than his titles is the inside view he has taken of the freshman year.  For an earlier book, Dr. Martin spent some time as a college freshman (a good reading experience on its own), but for this book he spent time visiting several colleges – talking to professors, staff members, administrators and many college students. Off to College shares an insider’s look at how college works.

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Three Tools and Three Questions to Help Your College Student Graduate on Time

On-time graduation is important, but it is relative.  For many college students, “on time” means four years to complete their degree.  However, other students (a growing majority in this country) need five or even six years to graduate.  There are many factors that can affect your student’s possible need for extra time.  You and your student should decide together, what makes sense for him.

Three important tools for keeping track

One of the keys to graduating in whatever time-frame your student has planned is keeping track of his progress.  Unfortunately, many students randomly take courses, or blindly accept the advice of others, without any understanding of why they are taking certain courses or what they need to do to complete their degree. Your student should listen to the advice he receives, but should be able to weigh it based on his own understanding of requirements.

So how does your student find out what he needs to do? There are three tools available at most colleges that can help him.  Your student should learn early in his college career what is available and consult these tools often.

Read moreThree Tools and Three Questions to Help Your College Student Graduate on Time


College Parent News and Views

The more that college parents know and understand about the college experience, the less we worry and the better we will be able to help our students to succeed and thrive throughout their college career.  However, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on the web.   We’d like to help you find some of the information that might be most interesting and useful to you as a college parent.

In News and Views we share recent college related news and sources we’ve found as we do our research.  We hope that this feature will help to introduce you to new ideas and to help you keep up with some of the current issues that may affect your college student – and you.

We invite you to read some of the articles suggested below – and to let us know what you think of some of the ideas included here.

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College Ahead! New Roles for Everyone!

The transition to becoming a college parent isn’t sudden.  You’ve been working on it through all of those months of SAT prep, college visits, essay writing, financial aid discussions, applications, acceptances and rejections, and finally, the DECISION.  But as you begin to think about the reality of your new situation, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s begin by thinking about who this new college student is, and what your role in this college experience might be.

Who is this College Student?

This college student is the son or daughter you’ve raised.

First and foremost, this student heading off on this grand and scary adventure called college, is the son or daughter you raised.  Although it sometimes feels as though you may not know or understand his behavior, you’ve had many years to instill important values and teach life lessons.  Your student will take to college with him the tool chest of lessons, experiences and values you’ve given him.  Trust him.  Trust the years you’ve spent with him.

This college student has a clean slate.

There is something wonderful about the adventure of beginning college.  Your student is a young man or woman with an opportunity to have a clean slate and build a new life. Many of us might welcome the opportunity to have a fresh start. Your student may have spent many years in the same area, school, or neighborhood.  He is known by everyone.  His family may have connections in town, he may have siblings ahead or behind him, he may be known as an excellent student, an athlete, a loner, or a class leader.   There is something safe in this knowledge, but also something restricting.

At college he will have a fresh start.  He can re-create himself.  This can be a wonderful, and an intimidating prospect. There’s no reputation to fall back on, but there’s also no history clouding your student’s opportunities.  Some students thrive on the experience of this fresh start and some are taken by surprise.  As parents, it is important for us to recognize that this is a stressful time.  Encourage your student to take advantage of the clean slate that he has to invent the self he wants to be.

Read moreCollege Ahead! New Roles for Everyone!


College Parent News and Views

The more that college parents know and understand about the college experience, the less we worry and the better we will be able to help our students to succeed and thrive throughout their college career.  However, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on the web.   We’d like to help you find some of the information that might be most interesting and useful to you as a college parent.

In News and Views we share recent college related news and sources we’ve found as we do our research.  We hope that this feature will help to introduce you to new ideas and to help you keep up with some of the current issues that may affect your college student – and you.

We invite you to read some of the articles suggested below – and to let us know what you think of some of the ideas included here.

Read moreCollege Parent News and Views


It’s a Special Season for Parents: Graduation and Gifts!

Graduation is a special season for your student – and for you!  Whether your student is graduating from high school or from college, the event marks a milestone.  Your student is proud, you are proud, and everyone should celebrate. This is an achievement worthy of praise and of celebrating accomplishments – and the future.

For many families, graduation also means gifts, and many parents stress over finding just the right gift for this big occasion.  We’d like to share a few thoughts – and then offer some help to get your creative juices flowing as you try to think of the perfect gift.

What should you think about as you decide on a gift?

  • Of course, gifts of money are always appreciated. This is especially true if you know there is something that your student would like that might be a big expense, or something that you know your student would like to pick out himself.  Cash is always welcome.
  • As you think about a gift, think about everything that you know about your student. What does she love?  What are her interests?  What kinds of things excite her or are especially meaningful to her?  You know your student better than anyone.  Build on that knowledge to make your gift especially personal.
  • Think about the transition that your student is making. What’s next?  If your student is finishing high school, will he go on to college, living on his own, a new job, technical school?  If your student is graduating from college, is he going on to graduate school, career, a first apartment?  Find a gift that speaks to that new phase in his life.
  • Perhaps you’d like to focus on something commemorative and lasting. Something that your student will cherish and that will always show your pride in him.
  • You might like to aim for something sentimental. Perhaps there is something from childhood or a gift that represents earlier generations of the family.  You might share a piece of family jewelry or a treasured family heirloom.
  • And nothing can be more personal than a handwritten letter from you expressing your pride, your dreams for your student’s future, and your love.

Read moreIt’s a Special Season for Parents: Graduation and Gifts!


Four Year Graduation Goal? Here’s How Your Student Can Stay on Track

Good college students recognize that asking questions – the right questions – is an important part of learning.  Sometimes asking just the right question, at just the right time, of just the right person, can make the difference between success and failure.  If your college student is interested in graduating from college in four years, there is an important question that he should be asking at least once every semester: “Am I on track to graduate in four years?”

Nationally, only 37% of college students graduate in four years.  The trend is for the majority of students to take at least five years to complete their degree.  Colleges now calculate their graduation rates based on the number of students who complete their degree in six years.  So the question about being on track is an important one.

Four years isn’t for everyone

For many students, a five-year or six-year plan may make sense.  Some students know at the time that they enter college that they will need longer to complete their degree.  They may need a reduced course load, they may have full time or part time jobs or family responsibilities, they may have significant outside or extracurricular activities that take a priority.  But for those students who enter college intending to finish in four years, taking ownership of their progress is essential.

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Happy Anniversary to Us! College Parent Central Is Nine!

Cue the balloons and confetti!  We’re celebrating our anniversary, or birthday, or blog day!  On April Fools Day 2009, we launched ourselves into the unknown and began College Parent Central.  We hoped that we might help parents as they accompanied their students on the college journey to understand more about the college experience and about their role in the process.  We thought we had a good idea, but we didn’t know what to expect.

It’s now been nine years and we’re still going.  We still believe there’s lots for parents to learn and understand in order to help their students prepare for, transition to, and succeed in college. We’ve been pleased, throughout the past nine years, to hear from so many parents who have found our information helpful. If you’ve landed on College Parent Central, and you are reading this, we hope you find what you need here, too.

We’re grateful for the many parents, educators and counselors who have shared our information with others, who have provided us with helpful feedback, and who have taught us so much over the years.

Our purpose

It is always a good idea, from time to time, to reflect on your roots.  Each time we look back to the purpose that drove us to launch College Parent Central, we reaffirm that our basic principles haven’t changed.

  • We believe that parents can be important partners in their child’s education from pre-school through college.
  • We believe that most parents want to be involved in their child’s college experience.
  • We believe that parents do have a place in their child’s college experience.
  • We believe that many parents don’t know how to be involved in their child’s college experience.
  • We believe that many parents don’t understand today’s college experience. (Those of us who attended college ourselves need to learn how the college experience has changed in the twenty-first century.)

Read moreHappy Anniversary to Us! College Parent Central Is Nine!