For Families: Supporting Your Student’s Transition to College

Congratulations as you prepare to send your student off to college!

How can you help?

Your students are entering an exciting new time in their lives–and your role is also in transition. What are some things you can do as you student goes off to college?

Give your student ownership of their transition to college

As your student prepares to head to campus, communicate with them about deadlines and making a plan for who’s going to do what. Allowing your student take ownership of the process in an important step in their path to being independent young people. Make it easy for your student to come to you for help, and keep in mind that they want your help with some things and not with others 😉

Develop a communication plan in advance

You may want to discuss communication preferences with your student before they move to campus. Some families find it comforting to decide together to set aside a few specific times each week to talk. Once they start classes your student will be busy with classes and activities (perhaps at times of day that seem odd to you!), and they may or may not find it helpful to get lots of calls or texts from home.

Listen and ask open ended questions

When you do check in with your students, talk about how things are going in general. Have they had a chance to try that new ice cream flavor at the Dairy Bar? What’s something interesting they learned in classes? Be supportive and engaging, and remember that things you may have helped them with in the past (such as due dates and bedtimes) are now their responsibility. Listen without fixing, and know that one of the greatest gifts you can give your student is to help them believe in their own ability to make decisions. It’s hard, but try not to tell them what to do unless they ask!

Campus Resources

Your student already has the strengths and experiences necessary to be successful. It’s now about using them within a new academic context, and sometimes that means accessing campus resources. Reassure your student about the opportunities and resources that are available to them on campus. There are so many ways to get help here on campus. Resources are here to help your student be successful, but those resources are only as impactful as the extent they are used. Instead of trying to solve their problems, help your student figure out – if they want your help— who on campus can help them. Students may want your help developing their independent-asking-for-help muscles–or they may want to work on that on their own. (It may be useful for you to know that if you reach out to us, we will likely ask you to have your student get in touch with us.)

Periodically reflect on the “Why”

Why is this educational opportunity important to your student, your family, your community? When students remember the meaning and value of their education, that can provide the strength to navigate tough times, that first bad grade, that challenging roommate, etc.

And when they come back home…

When your student comes home for breaks, remember that they have been learning and practicing a new set of independence skills. You and your student may need to discuss and re-negotiate the expectations you have of each other. Unless they ask, your student most likely does not need reminders about waking up, due dates, homework, etc. Still, you can expect your student to contribute to household chores like any other member of the family (dirty dishes in the sink, we see you!). Developing a “visit checklist” together can help parents avoid nagging students about bringing important items home on break (or at least limit nagging to, “Do you have everything on the visit checklist?”).

PS: students from warm climates have told us they appreciate when their families help get them organized with Ithaca-appropriate winter gear, whether through a shopping trip or helping them access campus resources.