Preparing for your child to go off to college is exciting. You attend the whirlwind of orientations soaking in as much information as you can, including the size of the mattress to purchase the correct sheet size! Your mind is flooded with excitement and worry with questions like, “What will it be like? How will we adjust? Will they do well?”
Leading up to the big move in day you prep with trips to the store buying all the desk organizers, coordinated bed linens, and bulk size packages of ramen. All of these opportunities allow for you to take a moment and have some of the most important proactive pieces of preparation for you and your child’s impending transition. However, I have found throughout my career in higher education that there is often a missed step.
We often take ease of communication for granted when our kids live in our own homes. You see them daily, talk to them often, and at least can sleep soundly when you peak out the window and their car is in the driveway or their cell phone is charging on the counter. They are home, they are safe, all is well. But what happens when you can’t quickly check in on them? It’s Friday night and you text them good night but get no response. You anxiously wait… 11pm, midnight, 1am, and still no response. You eventually fall asleep but can’t help but worry. Finally, at noon on Saturday you get “thanks mom… late night at the library.” Finding their independence and stretching their wings is all a part of the growing up process and acclimating to college life. With the ease of texting or social media it makes quick “check ins” easier than ever and allows more connection between home and being away.
This can easily become a battle ground if not discussed ahead of time. Discuss your expectations with your child and allow them an opportunity to discuss what they feel is reasonable. Understand that this will be a fluid and ongoing conversation throughout their college years. As their independence grows or they experience new challenges they will rely on you in different ways. This is not only o.k. but a vital process of them determining their own scope of ability. Obviously, if you are making financial contributions, like paying the cell phone bill, you will probably have a little more say in setting the expectations. Explain that concept, “As long as we pay the bill here is what we expect. We expect for you to keep your phone charged and respond in a timely manner (be specific here on what is timely, within 4 hours for example). If this is not something you are happy with we support you in getting (and paying for) your own plan.” Being clear and setting expectations early allows for you both to have a starting place to revisit as they become more acclimated to their new life on campus.
At this point they have heard “College is different. College is hard.” Reality is – that is true. For many parents of high achieving high schoolers the thought that their child may not meet the academic expectations doesn’t often cross their minds. During my time working with students on academic probation I can share that often the toughest group to motivate out of academic difficulty are those that were high achieving in high school. Why? For many of them they did not only excel but they excelled easily. Studying was not a necessity and projects they procrastinated on still earned high scores compared to their classmates. Transitioning to a classroom environment that drastically reduces the assignments or items that affect their final grade, testing only a few times per term on large sections of information, and a lecture based format becomes a completely foreign experience.
So how do you combat this proactively? Talk to your student now about their class schedule. Have them share with you how they are going to tackle their day. Especially for students who will not be working a job this will help them start to strategize how they use their time. Time for many traditional age freshmen is their biggest enemy. They do not know how to prioritize it or fill it appropriately. After they receive their syllabus for each class during the first week check back in and discuss. “So now that you are aware of this huge paper that is 70% of your grade how are you going to tackle it?” Having this be an ongoing topic beginning before they even arrive to campus will help combat the “get out of my business” syndrome when you find out they are struggling after mid-term grades are posted (let’s be honest if they are even posted).