Advice for Parents of Incoming Students
Our student affairs team offers suggestions to parents, which should help pave the way for a smooth first semester.
New Student Orientation is one of the most exciting periods on a college campus. When your passion is educating students, as ours is at SUNY Brockport, you can’t help but be gripped by a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm when our newest students arrive on campus for the first time.
While it’s an exciting time for us, we know it’s a nerve-wracking time for parents — especially those who are sending their student off to college for the first time. We’d like to help calm those nerves a bit. I asked my team to come up with some advice they’d offer to the parents of college-bound students. Here’s what they came up with:
Get on the same page
Parents have dreams and expectations for their students. Students have dreams and expectations for themselves. Unless there is two-way communication about these goals (they can’t simply be prescribed from parent to student), they can lead to stress and confusion.
Give your student time to adjust
It’s often best for resident students to spend their first few weekends on campus. It’s natural for them to be a bit homesick, but this gives them a chance to embrace their new community.
Encourage your student to get involved
Academics are extremely important — but so is the time students spend outside of the classroom. Serious students make full use of their time, and that includes finding one or two extracurricular activities that they are passionate about. Students who are engaged with their campus community are more likely to succeed.
Most students come to college used to being told exactly what to do. Their parents tend to manage the details of their lives and serve as their biggest advocates. College should be different. Make the hit song from Frozen your theme song and “Let it Go.” Set expectations, remind them of their responsibilities, and support them in advocating for themselves. When it gets tough, resist swooping in to save them. Help them learn to save themselves.
Don’t forget to file for financial aid
Make sure your student files for federal financial aid (FAFSA) and meets all published deadlines.
Know your health insurance
Make sure your student understands how their health insurance works, and get them an insurance card. Campus care often comes with no, or minimal, out-of-pocket expense. Health care received off campus will likely use insurance.
Talk about good health habits
Remind them of the basics of staying healthy: hand washing, bringing their own medications, flu shots, and eating fruits and vegetables. French fries are not a vegetable!
Have candid conversations about sensitive topics
Speak candidly with your student about the choices they will make around alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity. Support mechanisms and educational programming will exist at their school, but ultimately, the choice is theirs. Discuss realistic expectations and the choices that you hope they’ll make.
Embrace the struggle
Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but your student will eventually struggle. It might be socially, personally, or academically. Embrace it. We all learn, grow, and build resilience from our struggles. If it was always easy, we would never improve.
You’re not alone: Thousands of other parents are experiencing similar emotions and have the same questions. Lean on them.
We have a “Parents of Brockport Students” Facebook group that offers an opportunity to ask questions of other parents, provides support, and builds community. Join the conversation.
Kathryn Wilson is vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at SUNY Brockport. This piece was adapted from an essay originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle.