As most parents know, 18 years comes and goes in a flash, and before you know it, that tiny little baby you brought home from the hospital has graduated high school and is now headed off to college! You want so much for them as they start their college years: good grades, good friends, a concise career path and to be confident and successful. How can you help prepare them to start college in a way that will help them adjust to college life and do well in the college classroom? How can they handle their newfound freedom and still thrive in their college courses? Let’s go through some common sense, creative and proven methods to help our children flourish as they start their college experience.
Before They Leave Home
As you pack up their stuff and plan to drive them to their college or university and drop them off to begin their freshman year, here are some things you can talk with them about and help them plan for before they set foot on their greatest adventure thus far:
- Help your kids define ways to communicate with you while they are gone. Decide if you will do FaceTime calls, regular phone calls, Skype, and on which days and times. Of course texting everyday is a good constant way to be in touch, and aren’t we grateful for technology! Be prepared for them not to connect with you as often as you would like but remember, they are adults now and learning to live out on their own, and that’s a good thing
- Explain to them that being successful in college isn’t just about their grades, although those are important. Good grades will come easier to them if they are doing well mentally, physically, and emotionally. You won’t be there to cook them healthy food, tell them to go to bed early or ease their anxieties after a bad day, they need to learn to look after themselves now but just know, the assurance that their parents and family love them and support them helps more than you realize
- Encourage your children to find people on campus they can talk to when they have a need, BEFORE those needs arise. Whether it is an advisor, financial aid person, where the health clinic is, college counseling center, how and where to find a tutor, where they can play intramural sports, workout, and clubs and religious organizations where they can find other students that share their interests and beliefs. Knowing what is there and where to look before they arrive will help boost their confidence
- Before they set foot on campus, let them in on a little secret: it’s going to be hard, really hard. Courses will be challenging, exams will be brutal, sometimes they will walk out of a class wondering what in the world was that professor talking about. But remind them, they faced challenges in high school and they overcame them. Hard work pays off and they can get through any challenge they face if they stay calm, come up with a strategy, and work through it
- Let them choose their own major, don’t try and influence their decision. It’s their life, their future, their choice. If they ask for your advice or opinion on their major, by all means share it, but don’t try and choose for them
- Life skills 101 - If they will be living in a dorm, show them some decent microwave meals or snacks they might enjoy. If they will be living in an apartment, show them some simple ways to cook meals that will keep them eating healthy. And most important: if they don’t already know how to do laundry, school them in the art of how to to wash (and not ruin) their own clothes
- Finances - They will be responsible for paying tuition, bills, and managing their own bank account. Having them already accustomed to balancing a checkbook and stressing the importance of paying bills on time will save them trouble and chaos into adulthood. If they have their own credit card, emphasize that it is not free money, it MUST be paid off, and with interest, so charging it up will mean they will be working hard to pay it off themselves
Once On Campus
As you arrive on campus with your freshman there are going to be many important things, processes and people to help them make their college experience a fruitful one.
- Offer your support, advice, your experience from challenges that you overcame, but you can’t solve their problems for them. For parents, it’s learning the fine line between showing them empathy and intervening in their lives and issues
- Skipping class - There won’t be a “front office” to call and let you know that your child has skipped a class and that makes it very tempting for them to skip. But so much information is given in each class they will take, skipping class will put them much further behind than they realize. Encourage them, unless they are sick, to make it to each class because it will make a difference in their grade
- Time management is key to having a successful college experience. Classes fall on certain days and times but they require study and work outside of just the classroom experience. Encourage your child to devote a certain amount of time each week outside of the classroom to study what they’ve learned inside the classroom. Papers, labs, and projects will also be a factor. If they are working, time management is an even greater concern. And yes, they deserve to have fun as well so that is also to be factored into their weekly timeline
- Hopefully your student left high school with some good study habits in place, but even if they did not there’s always time to learn. They key is studying outside of class each day/week, so when an exam comes they aren’t up all night long cramming for it in the last few hours before the test. Forming study groups with other people in their classes will help to keep them focused and share information, as well as building friendships with other students
- It will be important for them to meet people, make new friends, ask for help, and not be afraid to have conversations with their professors. The more people they know, the more resources they will have to thrive, both academically and personally
- One of the most important places they will find will be where they can study effectively, somewhere free of distraction and noise
- One of the most helpful relationships they will make will be with their academic advisor. They will be a foundation toward building an effective college experience. Encourage your student to make appointments with their advisor, don’t be afraid to ask questions, even drop in on them periodically, they will be key to their success and even a trusted friend as their time in school goes forward
- Most campuses have a place to get healthy food and a gym/workout center where students can exercise. Emphasize to them that taking care of their health and body is essential to doing well at school
Help Them Thrive
If you’ve watched any nature documentaries, it’s common to see the animal mother provide and protect her babies. But once they reach a certain stage of maturity, it’s also her duty to nudge them out into the world on their own. It’s not much different with us. Though our natural tendency may be to want to hold them close and not let them leave, we have raised our children to be responsible, well functioning adults and we have to trust that we’ve done that, and set them free to chase their dreams and become who they are destined to be. And having a front row seat, watching them succeed and thrive in their calling, is the greatest gift a parent can hope for.
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