Tips for Family Members

Starting college for the first time is both an exciting and frightening journey. This journey will probably make your student a different person, but don't forget that this is a journey for you as a family member as well. You share in the happiness, sorrow, success and failure.

Our ten tips for family members will help you relate during this exciting and unpredictable transition.

1. Don't ask if they're homesick

The first few days and weeks of school are activity-packed and overwhelming. The challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes up a majority of a freshman's time and concentration. Students will certainly miss you, but homesickness is usually a desire for the comfort of a familiar routine.

It's scary for your student to be responsible for themselves for the first time, but we suggest you offer support rather than open arms to run back to. Remind your student to enjoy the experience.

2. Send mail/email/care packages

Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence , most are still anxious for family ties and the security those bring. Most freshmen, although they might never admit it, are eager for news from home and their family.

It may seem mundane, but there is nothing more depressing than a week of an empty mailbox. Though they may not answer your letters, they will be grateful for them. Many students and parents keep in touch through email as well. Care packages are also appreciated! Getting that slip in your mail box and heading to the front desk of the resident hall to pick-up the package that doesn't fit into the little, square mailbox is a great spirit booster for your student.

Visit the Residence Life website. click on the residence hall your student is living in and you will find the mailing address for the building.

3. Ask questions

College freshmen are trying to be "cool" and tend to resent interference with their new lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is still interested in them, even if it's "only" a family member.

Family curiosity can be viewed as comforting or obnoxious, depending on the attitudes of everyone involved. Try to avoid the "I have a right to know" questions with ulterior motives. Honest inquiries will do much to further the family-student relationship. Even though you may not think of your son or daughter as adults, they crave to be treated as such. 

Open-ended questions work well when chatting with your student. I'm sure you have had this conversation with your student..."How was your day? Fine."  Open-ended questions require the student to give more in-depth answers.  Click here to see some possible questions to ask.

4. Try not to worry (too much) about panicky phone calls, letters or email

Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (a flunked test, the end of a relationship, etc.), the only place to turn is home. Unfortunately, this is the most common time that students get the urge to communicate, so you never hear about the paper that got an A or the great date last night.

Try to be patient with those "nothing is going right, I hate this place" phone calls, letters or emails.

  • Be reassuring.
  • Explain that you are there for them, but won't necessarily come drive them home.
  • Tell them you have faith in them.

You are providing a real service as an advice-dispenser, sympathetic ear or punching bag. It may heighten your worry radar, but it works wonders for a frustrated student.

5. Visit

Visits by family members (especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and dinners out) are another part of the college experience freshmen are sometimes reluctant to admit gratitude for but appreciate immensely. These visits give students the chance to introduce some of their important people to each other. Families can become familiar with new activities, commitments, living environments and friends.

Spur-of-the-moment, surprise visits, however, are not usually appreciated. It's best to schedule a visit with your student. If you visit during Family Weekend (October 28-30, 2016), you may even get to see a clean room!

6. Try not to say "these are the best years of your life"

The freshman year is full of indecision, insecurity, disappointment and, most of all, mistakes. It's also full of discovery, inspiration, good times and friends. It takes a while for some students to accept both the positives and negatives of growing up and accepting themselves. It sometimes takes longer for family members to realize this.

Any family member who believes all college students get perfect grades, know what they want to major in, have activity-packed weekends, thousands of friends and lead carefree lives is mistaken. "College educated" doesn't mean mistake-proof. Perpetuating the "best years" stereotype is working against the student's already difficult experience. If you accept and understand the highs and lows of reality, you'll provide the support and encouragement needed most.

7. Take time to discuss finances

Most college students are still financially dependent upon their family to some degree. Sit down and discuss your family's financial situation. Students need to know how much money will be available to them and how much fiscal responsibility is theirs.

Discussion about credit cards is especially important. Students are bombarded with credit card applications promising free stuff:

  • Teach them how to see through the empty promises as credit card companies target students.
  • Show them exactly what 21% interest means.
  • Set spending limits.
  • Warn about frequent trips to the ATM.

Remember that once students move to campus, you won't be able to tell them "no" when they want something.

8. Expect your student to change

Freshmen are especially eager to try out different identities while trying to find their individuality. They will change, and that should be a positive thing. Students are at college to learn and grow as educated citizens. They may come home with different-colored hair, but there also may be a subtle maturity in their conversations and newfound passion about a studied subject.

9. Prepare for their return

When the academic year ends and your student returns home for the summer, plan to discuss the rules of living at home. Parents need to respect the individuality their student has worked to achieve. Students need to know there are rules and courtesies to be observed at home no matter how independent they were at school.

10. Trust them

Finding yourself is difficult enough without feeling that the people whose opinions you value the most are second-guessing you. One of the most important things family members can do is let their students know they trust their judgment and will be there if that judgment creates less than desirable results.