Beginning college is a big moment – for both you and your student. This is an especially big transition if your student is going away to live on campus. Although more students may be doing college from home this fall, the transition to college is still a major shift for both of you. In fact, it may be even more difficult if your student will be doing college from home. It just doesn’t feel that different, so it’s harder to remember that this isn’t high school any more.
But whether your student is home, a few miles away, or across the country, there are some important reminders you should share to help them succeed. And a few of these may be good reminders for parents as well.
Please tell your student the following 8 things:
Start now, well before school begins. Email may seem old fashioned to your student, but it is the primary way that most colleges share information with students. This summer especially, as the world around us is constantly changing, it is important for your student to be regularly checking for information arriving from the school. Once the semester begins, this is also the way that most professors will expect to reach students – and expect students to reply. Your student should check their email daily – and respond to messages as quickly as possible.
Note to parents: Most information from the college will go directly to your student rather than to parents. Be sure to ask your student to share important updates with you. Remind your student, too, that checking and responding to email is good practice for professional expectations later. Not many of us could say to our boss, “No, I didn’t see your message or request, I haven’t checked my email in a while.”
- “Don’t share your passwords with anyone – including your parents.”
Your student should protect their passwords carefully, and this includes not sharing college log-ins with parents. Don’t ask your student to share their email password so that you can check to see what’s on their portal or email. Don’t ask to sign in to your student’s account to fill out forms or submit information. It is important that your student take control of their communication and responsibilities.
Note to parents: Yes, this can be scary. You worry that something will get overlooked – and it might. But that will be a learning situation. It’s OK to remind your student occasionally at first, but it’s time to step back. If you’ve already asked your student for passwords, have a conversation about it. Ask your student to take responsibility for checking email regularly, doing whatever needs to be done, and sharing any information that you should know. Let your student know that you are counting on them and that you trust them. Take the leap and suggest that they change their passwords and not share them with you. Then remind yourself that raising an independent, responsible adult is your goal and that it takes practice.
- “Find out what resources are available at the college and make use of them.”
Many students feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and an indication that they “aren’t smart enough for college.” Help your student understand that many of the best students are the best students because they get the help that they need. This begins by finding out what resources the college offers – writing center, tutoring center, speaking center, counseling, advisors. Once your student knows what’s available, make sure they know how to access these services and then turn to them for help. Remind them that seeking help early will often mean even more success.
Note to parents: Do your homework. The more that you know about college resources, the better you will be able to point your student in the right direction if they need help. Make sure they use the professional resources available rather than turning to you.
- “If your college has an Emergency Alert system, make sure that your information is complete and up to date.”
Most colleges have a system for notifying students, and others that they may designate, in case of emergency. This could be anything from an unexpected event on campus, a snow closing or other emergency closing, or any other crucial message. It is essential that your student check to be sure that all of their contact information, as well as the information for others, is accurate. These emergency notifications are used sparingly but are extremely important.
Note to parents: Although we advocate for students to receive messages from the college and share that information with you, this is one instance when you should ask your student to put you on the list. It may be slightly annoying to receive notifications for each snow closing, for instance, but it provides peace of mind to know you’ll receive any emergency messages, so do ask your student to include you.
This is important advice anytime, but is especially important this fall as so much uncertainty surrounds the fall semester. Your student should have a plan for what essentials they would need to take, how they will get off campus (especially if they do not have a car with them), where they will go, and phone numbers for anyone they will need to notify. Hopefully, this will never be needed, but it is important to be prepared.
Note to parents: Work on this with your student before they leave for school. Know the plan so you can be confident that they know what to do and will be in contact with you.
- “Put key phone numbers in your phone before you go or as soon as you arrive on campus.”
Make sure your student knows how to quickly contact Campus Safety, the Health Center, the Residence Hall or Community Director, their roommate, their advisor, and anyone else they may need.
Note to parents: Although it is important that your student stay in touch with you, their first call in the event of a situation on campus should probably be someone on campus rather than you. (We know the story of a student stuck in an elevator who called their parents to ask what to do rather than Campus Safety or Buildings and Grounds.) Having these numbers pre-programmed in their phone will make this even easier.
- “Think carefully about the essentials that you absolutely need to take to college this year.”
Most students overpack for college. They should certainly take the things that they will need and that will make them comfortable, but this is a good year for your student to think carefully about what to take to school, and this means not bringing things they won’t need and also making sure they bring the important things that they will need. For those students who will be on campus to attend class, everyone hopes that all goes well. But we all also know that the situation may change quickly and students may need to leave. If your student needs to head back home unexpectedly, being able travel a bit lighter will be helpful. But in trying to keep it light, don’t forfeit those things that matter.
Note to parents: Every student is different. Some students want to bring everything they own with them and others are dorm minimalists. Help your student find balance. Talk about what will make them feel at home, what essentials they need, and what it might make sense to leave at home – at least for now. If you are close enough to visit campus, you can bring additional items to your student later.
- “Connect to your professors early and get to know them. Be sure to talk to your professor if you are struggling so they can help you.”
Many first-year students are intimidated by their professors, or don’t want to let their professor know that they are having trouble. One complaint that many professors have is “My students don’t make an effort to get to know me or stop by for office hours. I don’t know whether students are having trouble in my classes.”
Note to parents: Encourage your student to make connections with their professors. Help them think, too, about how to approach a professor and what to expect when they visit. For many students, these face-to-face (or virtual) individual meetings are intimidating. Talking about what to expect beforehand, or even role-playing, will give them the confidence to get the help – and perhaps mentoring – that they need.
Some of these suggestions are obviously for students who will be on campus in the fall, but many of them will also be important for your college student living home. Talking about some of these issues and preparing for some of the situations to expect can help ease the transition for your student, and help you have the confidence that your student will succeed and thrive in their new environment.