Opinion

College Tips for Parents: 7 Ways to Help Your Child Get Ready for Campus, Make the Most of Freshman Orientation, and Succeed on Their Own

By Sarah Eustis | July 24, 2018

With college move-in days and new-student orientations rapidly approaching, families across the nation are beginning to think about what they need to do before the student in their family launches into the college experience. School supplies need to be purchased, classes need to be selected, and, for students living at school, a full move needs to be planned.

What else can families do to help their child prepare for a successful freshman year?

InsideTrack’s coaches work with students across the country, from all backgrounds, to help them find success in and out of the college classroom. Tapping into this collective wisdom, here are seven suggestions for families who want to help their children get off to a strong start and make the most of their college experience.

1. Help your child create a college-going identity, and prepare for changes in communication. You can do this in ongoing discussions throughout the summer to create structure and expectations. Potential topics include when you would need to hear from your child and when it is OK not to communicate with you. Find and set up software or apps (Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.) for text and video. Expect changes in how often and how your child may communicate with you; discuss why this is OK and how it is an important part of this next step in life.

2. Encourage your child to identify people to get to know and where to go on campus for support. It’s important that students do this on their own — taking charge of their own college experiences provides a great opportunity to become more independent. Helpful resources may include: financial aid officers, academic advisers, health services, clubs, recreational facilities, writing and tutoring centers, and religious organizations. Support and growth opportunities can come from both school and community organizations. Preparing for college should start before orientation. If a student already knows the basics before getting to campus, he can spend that time getting to know his new community and making friends.

3. Success at college means more than just grades — it includes the whole person. To reinforce this, ask your child how he or she is doing outside the classroom. Here are a few questions to start a conversation:

● How are you feeling on campus?

● What kind of connections are you making — with people, clubs, professors?

● How do you feel about how you’re spending your time?

● What have you done today, or recently, that you’re proud of?

● If you could redo this week, what would you do differently?

4. Help your child become CEO of the college experience. Successful students proactively address what they need to do to support their college life. This means building habits like:

● Reaching out to Student Services before issues arise

● Introducing themselves to their professors

● Thinking about how they can better manage their time

● Anticipating potential challenges and putting contingency plans in place

5. Ask your child open-ended questions to help her figure out how to move forward and approach decisions as an independent adult. When an issue comes up, support your child in creating — and following through on — her own plans rather than solving the problem yourself. When your child asks you a question, redirect it back to her to help her gain experience making her own decisions and being in control. Ask, “What do you think is the right approach?”

6. Help your child connect existing strengths with challenges he’s facing in college. Often, students don’t connect the dots between pre-college life and the college experience. You can help by reminding your child of challenges he overcame in high school, such as the time he pulled his grade up from a C to a B. Or the time the family moved and he succeeded in making new friends after starting over in a new middle school.

7. Talk with your child about giving 100 percent during the first semester, and the growth — and the discomfort — that he or she can expect. Normalize the struggle by letting your child know that things will get tough and by encouraging resilience and perseverance. If your child mentions wanting to leave or transfer, reply that transferring is not always the answer. Challenging your child to work on the mindset and habits of becoming a successful student will also build the capacity to overcome obstacles after graduation.

Sarah Eustis is director of program operations at the student success coaching company InsideTrack.

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