What I’ve Learned as the Parent of a College Student

With my daughter set to graduate in a little more than a week and my son only two years behind her, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons this experience has taught me.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

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If you thought high school went fast, just wait. The college years travel at warp speed. As a parent, you have to be on top of your game, because a lot happens in this time. Here’s a primer. 

Kids pick colleges for different reasons You may never understand why this college appealed to your teen. Selling points like the five-year BA/MBA program, the easy access to a major city, the amazing rec facility, etc. won’t really matter once she’s there.

A freshman dorm is a good idea Despite the craziness in these dorms, kids transition better when everyone around them is facing the same challenges. Freshman residence hall staff focus on the issues of the first year experience more than the staff in dorms that mix freshman with upperclassmen.

Don’t say, “College is the best time of your life” Deep down you know this isn’t true. All you’re doing is setting up your student for disappointment. Be realistic and say college can bring a lot of fun times that he will always remember, but some days will be tough (those we all forget).

smartphoneLate night phone calls are the norm Sometimes the call is due to an emergency, but just as often it’s because your son or daughter feels like talking. Sure it’s 12 AM, but to a college kid, the night is young.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to. Enough said. 

The child you send off to college is not the one who returns College changes kids, usually in a good way. They grow up, take on some semblance of responsibility and come home with more of their own ideas. Get used to it.

Rarely is a college a perfect fit As the parent, you have to know which complaints to ignore and which need your attention. Time often fixes what’s wrong as your teen makes some friends, settles into her new routine and figures out her roommate.

There are keys to a successful weekend visit Take him shopping—for snack food, clothes, dorm room supplies. Feed him well. Cut out by 10 PM at the latest so he has time to hang out with his friends. Plan breakfast for some time around noon if you want conversation with your meal.

College makes kids self-absorbed This is an unintentional consequence of having to take care of yourself.

Girls and boys are different College confirms this. Guys are less picky when it comes to making friends, sharing space and adjusting to dorm life. Their main concern: how big a TV will fit in the room. Girls care about how the room looks and the amount of storage space (it’s never enough).

The FAFSA formula makes no sense I have yet to hear a parent say, “Oh yeah, I can definitely swing the FAFSA expected family contribution.”

The friend your teen makes at orientation tends to last Each of my kids stayed friends with the person they bonded with at orientation, who became a roommate after their first year. I know several kids who also found their freshman year roommate at orientation.

DSC02107Study abroad is a growth opportunity Students should try it for a few weeks, a few months or a semester. They learn respect for other cultures, an appreciation for their own and the chance to find out how to function outside of their comfort zone.

Always remember that this is not your college experience You can’t have a do-over or a first shot at college. Let your kid make his or her own memories.

If your young adult comes out of college without loans, she should thank you With the average college debt per student at about $25,000, it’s the rare and lucky one who can graduate debt-free.

Four years fly by Honestly, it seems like we just dropped her off at college yesterday.

In the comments section below, share what you’ve learned after surviving your child’s college experience. 

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