Advice for Parents and Guardians of College Students: 6 Pieces of First-Year Wisdom

by Heather Nelson

You did it! You sweated and toiled and made it through many crazy years of raising someone into a young adult who’s now heading off to college. And now it’s time to let him or her go. While your recent high school graduate is dreaming of university life, you might be dreading the thought of being apart after all these years.

This can be a difficult transition not only for students, but for families as well. Here are six pieces of advice for parents and guardians of college students to make this new time in life more exciting than ever—for both of you.

1. Make New Memories

You have one last summer before your student is college bound—make the most of it! If you want to go big, plan a memorable family vacation that packs in quality family time. If that doesn’t fit on the calendar, make sure to squeeze little moments into your everyday life. Take a walk around the block and commemorate it with a selfie together. Buy everything to make a favorite meal and cook alongside each other. Take advantage of all the moments, big and small, to solidify your special bond that nothing (including distance!) can break.

2. Prepare Them for the Basics

This is the first time your student is living without you. Paying bills? Living with strangers? Managing money? There’s a lot to learn before heading off, and there’s no one better equipped to teach them than you. Try tackling some of the more simple things first to gain momentum for bigger things later on. Take some time to go over the housing rules and guidelines where your student will be staying. Most schools will provide a packing list or other student resources to cover what they can and should bring. And don’t forget to talk about money. Teach your student how to create and stick to a budget. College isn’t free, and it’s important that college newbies know how to stay on track.

3. Schedule a “Me” Day

Goodbyes are hard. The fears, the worries, the “How am I old enough to have a college student?” freak out. But the upside of sending your student off to college is that it comes with a definitive date. So, plan a little “me” day in advance to help get your mind off the hard goodbye. Schedule a massage at your favorite spa for the day you get back from the drop-off. Make a dinner reservation for you and your spouse at a restaurant you've been wanting to try. Get your friends together for a meal and congratulate yourself on raising an awesome kid. You deserve it!

4. Be Prepared for the “I Can’t Do This” Call

This is a big time of transition for you as a parent, but your biggest worry may be how your college student is coping. Most days will be great, but there will be days when things just aren’t shaping up as planned. A low grade that wasn't expected. A new friend who turned out not to be so friendly. The list goes on. So, be prepared for that “I can’t do this” call that is likely to come at one point or another. Your student is still in the early stages of figuring out how it works to live independently. Despite being away from home, you’re still their guardian; you’re still needed as a shoulder to cry on or as a listening ear. Take this time to offer a reminder about why they are at college in the first place: to learn and receive an amazing education, to build lasting relationships, and to grow as a person. More so at this stage than any other, your advice is pure gold.

5. Set Up Weekly E-Dates

You’re used to seeing your student every day. It’s a big adjustment to lose that face-to-face time. Luckily for you, technology is on your side! As you’re both adjusting to life away, agree to grab a few minutes once a week on a FaceTime or Skype call. It’s easy, free, and a pretty good remedy for a homesick heart.

6. Remember: No News Is Good News

As their family member, you love being in the know. But your new college student is experiencing life independently for the first time, and that is a good thing!

Wioletta Pawlowska, a high school counselor and expert on emotional issues, has advice for parents of college students: When it comes to college, sometimes less is more. “Remind yourself that if your student doesn’t call home often, that might just mean that he or she is busy, not that he or she has forgotten about you,” Pawlowska wrote in a recent blog post for Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority. “Sometimes no news is good news.”