Beyond Parents Weekend: Why College Parent Engagement Matters

We are not advocating parent helicoptering. Engagement is not hovering.

College students need to practice their independence, make their own decisions, take responsibility for their education, and begin to lay the foundation for their future. But when you drop your student off on Move-in Day, your parenting job doesn’t end – it simply changes. (Actually, it’s not simple, but it changes.) When your student graduates from college, your parenting job doesn’t end – it changes once again. You are a parent for life.

However, there’s a difference between checking in with your student and checking up on your student. That can be the difference between helicoptering and engagement.

Why are parents so involved?

Throughout most of our student’s school years, the messaging has been that parental involvement correlates with success.  We’ve been told we need to partner with the school to support our students and to send them the message that their education matters.  Students are used to us being involved – and many, perhaps the majority, want it to continue. Why should we believe that things will change when those same students head to college?

But it does change. Parental engagement on the college level needs to look different.

Read moreBeyond Parents Weekend: Why College Parent Engagement Matters


Parenting Students with Learning Differences – Dealing with our Own Anxiety

This is the third article by College Parent Central contributor Dr. Lynn Abrahams.  Lynn specializes in college transition and success for students with learning differences.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, in her book How to Raise an Adult (2015), reports that American parents are depressed at twice the rate of the general population. There is no question about it, parenting can be stressful, challenging, and anxiety provoking.

As parents of students with learning differences, we have watched our kids navigate years of school experience. We have been with them through neuro-psych testing, diagnosis, meeting with teachers and special educators. We have shared both the success stories and the brick walls with them. As their parents, we know more than anyone else where the pitfalls could be. This is probably why our own anxiety can swell to explosion when they take that leap to go to college. In fact, it is possible that we could be even more anxious than they are!

I speak as both a parent and as a learning disability specialist, who has worked with college students for the past 30 years, when I say that we need to find healthy strategies to deal with our own anxiety. We will not be able to be supportive to our students if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

There is a reason airline personnel instruct us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others – if we run out of oxygen we are of no use to anyone else.

Read moreParenting Students with Learning Differences – Dealing with our Own Anxiety


Beyond the Pumpkin Pie: When Your College Student Comes Home for Thanksgiving

For many students and their families, Thanksgiving Break will be the first extended trip home from college.  It’s a bit of an appetizer for the longer Winter Break to come.

We’re excited to have our student home. We have plans.  We’ve been baking and cleaning and thinking about those long, important conversations.  We’ll have a chance to catch up and learn all of the details about our student’s life at college.

Maybe.  Be careful.  Don’t expect too much. Be prepared so that you can make the most of the time that you have.

There will be plenty of time for more extended conversations over the longer Winter Break, but you need to give your student some space to relax and regroup for the final push of the semester. This will be a good time for a check-in, and with some thinking and planning you can make the most of the short break.

Read moreBeyond the Pumpkin Pie: When Your College Student Comes Home for Thanksgiving


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.

Read more10 Conversations Parents and Students Should Have Before the First Year of College


How One Exercise Can Improve Your Communication with Your College Student (or Teen) Without Saying a Word

Kids are different.  As parents, we know this.  Some will talk your ear off and share everything going on in their lives.  Some talk a lot, but never really share what’s below the surface.  Others stay mum and it’s difficult to pry their thoughts from them.

As parents, most of us crave quality communication with our kids.  So when they don’t share, we’re frustrated.  Sometimes we beg for more information.  Sometimes we get angry.  And sometimes we just talk more.  These approaches seldom work.

We’d like to offer an exercise to improve your communication with your student – even before you open your mouth.

Yay! Uh-oh! And Lost Opportunities!

One of the first things that you can do to help you begin to improve your communication with your student actually has nothing to do with your student directly.  Spend some time in the company of others and unleash your powers of observation and analysis.

Read moreHow One Exercise Can Improve Your Communication with Your College Student (or Teen) Without Saying a Word


Involving Grandparents in the College Experience

Grandparents are everywhere!  According to U.S. Census information, more than one in every four adults in the United States is a grandparent.  Most of those grandparents are Baby Boomers in the 45 to 64 age range.  That means that most college students in the United States are likely to have at least one grandparent in their life.  The trends indicate that this number will continue to grow to 80 million grandmothers and grandfathers, or nearly one in three adults in America, by 2020 and that American grandparents will continue to play a central role in the lives of their grandchildren and their adult children.

Financial assistance – the most obvious connection

The MetLife Report on American Grandparents is based on a nationwide survey of adults aged 45 or more who have grandchildren under the age of 25.  This survey highlights some information about today’s grandparents and at least some of the connections that they have with their college aged grandchildren.

  • 63% of those surveyed said that they are giving some type of financial assistance or monetary gifts (of any kind) to their grandchildren.
  • 70% are giving less than $5000 and the median amount is $3000.
  • 26% of those surveyed are contributing to their grandchild’s education
  • 68% of those surveyed said they are not giving any financial advice or guidance to their grandchildren.
  • Of those grandparents helping with educational costs, 46% said they are contributing to an educational fund and 24% are helping fund a college education (others may be helping with preschool, elementary or high school costs).

These statistics give one important snapshot of a relationship between college students and their grandparents.  Financial assistance is clearly an important piece.  When the connection between college students and grandparents is discussed, the topic is overwhelmingly around the ways in which grandparents can best financially help their college student – how much to contribute, when to contribute, how to contribute.  But there’s more.

Read moreInvolving Grandparents in the College Experience


Helping Your College Student Cope with Stress

College students experience a lot of stress.  As parents, some of us are acutely aware of our student’s stress levels, and to others of us it may be less obvious.  Of course, not every student experiences stress, and some students actually thrive on a certain amount of it; but many college students find that increased pressure or anxiety are part of the experience of college.

Consider some of the following information gathered about student stress as you think about your own student’s potential stress levels.  Discuss some of these findings with your student to help them realize that they, and/or their friends, may not be alone if they are experiencing anxiety.

College students experience a lot of stress – but it’s not all bad

The Associated Press and MTV conducted a survey of college students to consider college student stress.  They surveyed over 2,200 students at 40 randomly chosen colleges throughout the United States.  Although the survey is several years old, the results have not changed much, or may be even more concerning in recent years.  Some of the findings of this College Stress and Mental Health poll are included below.

  • 85% of students feel stressed on a daily basis
  • 60% of students at some time have felt stress to the point of not being able to get work done
  • 70% of students have never considered talking to a counselor about their stress
  • 84% of students reach out to friends to help them with their stress
  • 67% of students reach out to parents for help with stress

The good news is that in spite of these statistics regarding stress levels, 74% of students reported feeling very or somewhat happy.  Clearly, not all stress is bad.

Read moreHelping Your College Student Cope with Stress


When Your Student Can’t Get Home for Thanksgiving

It’s almost Thanksgiving Break. Students all across the country are preparing to head home for some rest, home cooked meals, and a bit of family time. Parents all across the country are anticipating, bracing themselves, and reading the many articles about what to expect when their student comes home for this important first visit.

But there are some students, and their families, for whom this Thanksgiving will be different. Perhaps your student is attending school too far away to get home for this relatively short break. Perhaps your student can’t afford the costs of travel. Perhaps your student has a job or other commitments that will keep him on campus for this holiday or is an athlete who needs to remain to play an important game.

It may be a difficult time for all of you.

What can parents do?

If your student is one of the many students who won’t be heading home this Thanksgiving, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

Read moreWhen Your Student Can’t Get Home for Thanksgiving


Making the Most of Your Phone Calls with Your College Student

Regular phone conversations with your college student are a great way to stay in touch with what is happening in your student’s life – and for them to stay in touch with life at home. Even if you keep up with each other via e-mail, text, or some other electronic medium, there is nothing quite like hearing each other’s voice.  However, just because the technology allows us instant contact, it doesn’t mean that every conversation will be satisfying.  Here are some suggestions that will help to maximize your conversations with your college student.

Make it routine.

Although spontaneous conversations are good, consider setting up a regular time for your student to phone you. Let your student phone you, rather than you making the call, so that they will choose a time when they are available for a conversation.  Reaching them while they are at dinner with friends may not be very satisfying for anyone.  

One perennial dilemma is finding the balance of how much contact is the right amount. While it may seem reassuring, as a parent, to talk to your child daily, or even multiple times a day, after those first few days of transition are over, moving away from such frequent conversations will help your student settle into life at college. Perhaps talking weekly might allow you to touch bases and check in.

Some students resist phoning home once a week.  If that is the case, suggest that they do it for your benefit.  Some students naturally phone home when they have a problem, or are feeling sad or homesick, or have something wonderful to celebrate.  For others, this may not be as easy.  When you set up a regular schedule, your student has an opportunity to phone home “because my parents insist” and it becomes a regular time to talk.  They don’t have to admit that they want to hear your voice, or see phoning home as a sign of dependence.

Read moreMaking the Most of Your Phone Calls with Your College Student


Ten Ways to Reach Out Through Your College Student’s Campus Mailbox

The number of ways in which we can communicate with our college students continues to increase almost daily.  You may use one method almost exclusively, or you may use several methods to keep in touch.  These days, most of our connections seem to be electronic.  We may communicate via cell phone, text, e-mail, Facebook, Skype, Google hangouts, Google chats, Facetime or any number of other methods.  It’s important to stay in touch (although it’s easy to overdo it).

In the rush of the newest electronic forms of communication, one often overlooked and forgotten form of connection is good, old fashioned, snail mail.  Even with the advent of technology as a means of connection, most college students are still assigned a physical mailbox on campus.  The ritual of checking the mailbox is still a common one for most students.  No matter what means of communication you use most often, consider using this mailbox to reach out to your student.

Yes, other forms of communication are faster and easier than snail mail, but there is nothing like the feeling of opening the mailbox and finding something there.  No e-mail or text compares to a personally handwritten note or card.  And Facetime conversations can’t be posted on dorm room bulletin boards.

Read moreTen Ways to Reach Out Through Your College Student’s Campus Mailbox


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