Five More Conversations Starters For Parents and Students Before the First Year of College
In another article, we suggested five conversations parents and students should have before the student begins college. Here are five more questions to consider.
The process of heading off to college – both for your student and for you – is filled with expectations. One roadblock, however, may be that your expectations and your student’s expectations may not be the same. Using the summer months for some frank and open talk about expectations will clear the air – and possibly avoid difficult situations later when you realize that you, or she, made some assumptions. Good communication now will also lay the foundation for continued quality communication once your student heads off.
Here are five questions or conversations you might consider having before your student leaves for school. Don’t try to cover them all at once, but try to touch on some of these topics as you both prepare. Not only will you learn some things about your student, but she may learn some things about you as well.
When, and how often, will your student come home to visit during the first semester?
Whether or not your student will come home to visit during the first semester may not be an issue if your student is far away from home. But if your student’s school is close enough, do you anticipate her coming home often? Does she plan to come home? Some students head off to college planning to come home every weekend. They want to see their friends, they may want some home-cooking, or they may have a weekend job at home. However, students who are connected to their college – through friends and on-campus activities often do better. Of course, you don’t want your student to feel as though you don’t want her to come home, but you may need to discuss the importance of her spending time on campus to establish her new life. You may need to work to understand why she doesn’t want to come home on the weekend to visit you. Be flexible, of course, but make a plan before your student leaves home.
How do you both feel about grades?
The simple answer to this question may be that everyone hopes that grades will be good. But beyond that hope, are there expectations on your part as a college parent? Remember that, with FERPA rules, grades will go directly to the student, not to you. Do you expect to see grades? Do you expect certain grades? Do you expect your student to tell you if he fails a course, or is on academic probation – or makes Dean’s List? If your student fails a course, do you expect him to reimburse you for tuition? What will happen if low grades impact financial aid? Talk about your expectations before those first grades come out.
If your student is taking a car to school, are there any rules?
Many colleges do not allow first-year students to have a car on campus, so this may be a conversation for a future summer. But if your student is taking a car to school, be sure that you agree on how you hope and expect that it will be used. Are there any restrictions on the use of the car? Is the car only for traveling home? May other students borrow and drive the car? Is your student comfortable being the one who will have to drive his friends everywhere? Is your student a responsible designated driver? If repairs are needed, who will pay? Who will pay for gas? Who will pay for insurance?
What are your expectations about alcohol?
This is a difficult subject for many parents to broach with their students. Your student may be under the legal drinking age, and your student’s school likely has clear policies regarding alcohol on campus. As parents, we may like to believe that our student will follow all of the laws and rules. For many students, that may be the case. The student may never drink, or may wait until he is of legal age, will follow the rules and will drink responsibly. For other students, going to college may be synonymous with partying and drinking. As a parent, you may have discussed the issue of alcohol with your student during high school, but you may want to revisit the issue as he enters the world of college and increased independence. Talk to him as honestly and realistically as you can. Do you expect him not to drink at all? Do you know that he probably will drink but hope that he will drink responsibly? What will happen if he gets caught? What are your honest feelings about underage drinking and what do you expect from your student? Remember that your student will need to make his own decisions and be responsible for his own actions, but he should make those decisions at least knowing your feelings.
What are your expectations and/or concerns about sex?
This is also a difficult subject for parents and students to discuss. Chances are that you’ve already broached the subject when your student was younger. But your student will be living on her own and there will be new situations that will arise. Talk to your student about your feelings and concerns. Talk about safety. Talk about expectations. Open the door now for future conversation later.
What do you both expect may be issues when your student returns home for vacations?
When your student returns home for his first significant break, he may have been on his own for several weeks or even months. He will not be the same person who left for school in the fall. Discuss now whether there will be different house rules or expectations when he returns. Anticipate changes. You may need to negotiate an agreement that is comfortable for both of you. You will need to recognize his growing independence, and he will need to recognize your comfort level. Will he have a curfew? Should he let you know if he will be out overnight? Can friends from college come to visit? Can a boyfriend or girlfriend from college share his room? Will you expect him to pitch in and help with chores at home? Will you do his laundry even though he’s been doing his own at school? Are there siblings at home who may have difficulty with a seeming double standard in rules? Some of these issues may seem trivial, and some are major life-style issues. Talking about them ahead of time will lay the groundwork for future discussions, and continual negotiations, when your student comes home.
There are many, many factors that come together to create a successful first year at college. As parents, we want to be there to encourage and support our student through that difficult transitional year. The more we work at getting to know our student – as an adult – and at expressing our expectations and listening to their viewpoints prior to awkward situations arising, the more smoothly the year will go for everyone.