Helping Your College Student Living at Home: What Are the Issues?

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Parents of students living at home face a unique set of issues.  In this article, we look at some of the reasons that students may choose to live at home, and some of the issues that might arise. 

 The college years are a time of growing independence for most college students.  When students leave home to go away to college, they learn not only what they are being taught by their professors, but they learn many life skills.  College students living away from home learn to manage their time, balance priorities, budget their money, hone their life skills, maintain relationships, and conduct the logistical necessities of their lives.

 But what about students who attend college while continuing to live at home?  Will they develop the independence that their classmates living on campus do?  What about the parents of college students living at home?  How will they cope with having an emerging adult in residence at home?  How can parents help their at-home college student to gain independence while still maintaining a household in which everyone is comfortable?

 Why is your college student choosing to live at home?

 Students may choose to live at home during college for a number of reasons.  Perhaps the most common and obvious reason is to save money.  Although tuition costs are high, they are only one portion of the costs of attending college.  Room and board fees are also high.  A student who can live at home, and therefore reduce or eliminate the costs of living, will save himself, and his family, thousands of dollars. 

 But cost may not be the only reason that some students choose to live at home during the college years.  Some students enjoy being close to their family; they enjoy, and need, the extra support that family members can provide.  Some students may have a health or other issue that requires that they stay at home.  Some students find separation extremely difficult and so choose to ease the transition to college by remaining at home – at least for a portion of their college years.  And some students choose to separate their college experience from their life experiences.  These students may view college more like a job than an entire lifestyle.  They opt to attend college classes, but keep their personal life separate.

 One factor that will help parents help their student living at home will be to understand clearly why the student has chosen to remain at home. The reasons may be obvious, or they may be more subtle.  A student who is living at home for purely financial or other necessary reasons may require different things from parents than a student who has opted to live at home largely for the closeness and support of family members.

 What are the problems that may arise from living at home?

 Living at home may go more smoothly for some students than others.  One factor is certainly whether the student is living at home out of choice or out of necessity.  If your college student is forced to live at home, but would rather be on campus, there may certainly be some tensions.  It may be important that you talk with your student about his options.  Perhaps he can live at home for a year or two and then move to campus or to an apartment later.  Having a goal, even if that goal is a year or two or three away, may help.  Getting everyone’s feelings out in the air, and acknowledging them, will certainly help both you and your student.

 Living at home and commuting to school may work better at some colleges than others.  Is your student the exception, or do a large number of students commute to school? She may worry that she will be left out of the college experience.  Help your student investigate the college’s attitude toward commuters.  It may be helpful if she realizes that she is one of several, or hundreds, or even thousands of students who will be commuting to classes.  She may want to investigate commuter lounges, or clubs, or special meal plans.  At first, your student may feel that she alone will be missing out on college experiences, but she may discover that her experiences will be different from her in-residence classmates, but they will be varied and significant.

 One of the major difficulties for students who live at home during college is how to differentiate this experience from high school.  Students, and their parents, need to realize that this is not simply more of the same - thirteenth grade.  This is not a continuation of the high school experience, but is a new stage, a new type of education with new experiences and expectations.  Parents can help students recognize and embrace these differences.  You may want to talk with your student about his expectations of the college experience.  Has he attended an orientation?  What did they explain about college?  Help your student recognize that even though he will still be living at home, this is a significant change and a big step.  Help him realize that you also understand that this is a significant step and that life at home may change in the next few months and years.

 As parents of college students we recognize that the college years are about letting go.  When we deliver our students to college on move-in day and drive away, we know without a doubt that we have let go.  For parents whose students may continue living at home, the letting go process may be more gradual, and it may be more difficult to negotiate.  However, conscious work by both parents, and their college students, will make the inevitable process go more smoothly.

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