My Student Is a College Graduate. Now What?

by Ashley Eneriz

For a soon-to-be college graduate and their parents and guardians alike, May is an exciting time. Students are preparing to exchange their final exams for prestigious diplomas and their families are excitedly cheering them on. However, this can also be an uncertain time for many families, as students transition into their new life after graduation and parents discover their new role as the guardian of an accomplished adult.

“Too many parents continue to enable their kids out of whatever need they have,” says youth and family expert Jim Burns, Ph.D., of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family. “The idea of ‘launching’ is definitely not easy for the young person, but if parents want their kids to thrive, they have to give them some of those wings or there will be a failure to launch.”

You’ve helped your child get to this significant milestone, and there is more to be done as they step into the next stage. Here is how you can support your college graduate while motivating them to embrace adulthood.

The Best Way to Help Your New Graduate

Now that your child has a diploma in hand, there is no need to remove the welcome mat from your home. Treat your graduate to a congratulatory coffee or meal and discuss their goals for the summer, after summer, and next year. Discuss what both of your expectations are and if there is a way you can help steer your student in a certain direction.

For example, if they want to move into an apartment, offer to help look at a few places or go over the papers before signing. Help calculate the budget and demonstrate how the numbers add up—do they need to get a roommate to make it work, or just be extra thrifty on grocery and gas spending?

Finally, give your new graduate all of their important documents, such as social security cards, birth certificates, passports, and even health records if you have them. They’ll need to have these materials on hand in the coming months and years, so it’s best if you hand over possession now.

When Adult Children Move Back Home

If their plan is to move back home while kicking off a career, that’s OK—but again, it’s best to establish expectations. It is important your new graduate has what Burns calls an “exit strategy.”

“Begin to keep the end in mind,” says Burns, referring to establishing independence in young adults. “I think that right after graduation is unique because a majority of young adults will boomerang back to home for one reason or another, but the process is to get them to become independent.”

As the guardian, you are paying the mortgage or rent, so let it be known what is expected of your new roommate. Lovingly explain to your student how amazing it is that they’re on the bridge to the next adventure in their life, but they aren’t meant to live on this bridge (a.k.a in your house) forever. Explain what their responsibilities are now, such as making his or her own meals and paying for his or her own phone bill and auto insurance.

“The parent has to make sure they do that, and the young person has to realize that if they are going to be an adult, they can’t also be dependent on their parents,” Burns notes.

How to Avoid Enabling Your College Graduate

After years of hard work, your student just finished their bachelor’s (or master’s) degree. They are definitely capable of greatness, so it is important not to enable them as they transition into independent adulthood.

“If they even have a part-time job, as a parent, you would be enabling them if you pay for their phone, if you continue to make their bed, if you are taking care of them; when in fact, they could do a lot of the things on their own,” explains Burns. “It doesn’t have to be the perfect job, but they should be somewhat financially responsible.”

If there is a task your young adult can do themselves—such as making doctor appointments, paying bills, or lining up job interviews—let them do it. “Parents have to give them those responsibilities now,” Burns concludes. “They aren’t going to do it as good as the parent, but that’s how [they] learn.”