Each year more than 17 million students enroll in college -- 5 million for the first time. For many, the difference between success and failure depends on what their parents do -- and don’t do. Here are our ten best tips for parents of new, and returning, college students (and if your kid isn’t yet in college, here’s a glimpse ahead of what you’ll be facing):
1. Don’t pick your child’s courses. Many parents feel the need to help their kid select from among the thousands of choices. Don’t. An important part of getting settled into college is finding the courses that best suit the student’s interests and best satisfy the college requirements. Let the academic adviser do his or her job.
2. Don’t install a GPS on your kid. Many well-meaning parents want to track their kid’s every movement at college. Resist the temptation to call five times a day on your cellphone. Let your kid develop a sense of independence and personal responsibility.
Extra Pointer. Two very nice books for parents to read are Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Coburn and Madge Treeger, and When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parent's Survival Guide by Carol Barkin. Once you get your mind around your own feelings about your kid leaving for college, you’ll be able to empathetically deal with your child’s feelings. Which would be a good thing for all concerned.
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3. Help your kid develop his or her passion. The single most important thing in college is that your student develop a true interest that he or she can enjoy throughout life. Let your child grow into his or her passion. Do not pressure him or her to major too early, or to pick a field solely for its job prospects. Let your kid spend the first two years of college exploring many possibilities, without undue direction from you.
4. Don’t edit your child’s papers. In many families, parents are used to “helping” with homework, especially when paper-writing time comes around. In college, the student is supposed to be working on his or her own. 100 percent. Resist the temptation to pitch in and just look over a draft of the paper. You could be leading your kid astray.
5. Encourage the student to go see the professor. One of the hidden resources at every college is the professor’s office hour. A required part of every professor’s job, the three or four office hours each week are the time that professors are available for one-on-one conferences to help the students with their papers and tests. Encourage your kid to avail him or herself of this free service as often as appropriate. You’ve paid for it, why not use it?
6. Don’t panic too soon. In most college courses, there are many graded pieces of work -- quizzes, homework, a midterm, a research paper, lab reports, a term paper, and a final exam. As a result, each piece of work counts a small percentage of the final grade. What’s more, the earlier pieces count less than the rest, since professors want to give students a chance to test the waters without great risk to their final grade. Upshot? If your child gets a bad grade on some early quiz or assignment, don’t send in the troops. Most students will do better as the course goes on.
7. Never call the professor, department chair, or dean. There are no parent-teacher conferences in college. Professors don’t want to hear from parents. At some colleges, there’s even an unofficial “dean of parents” whose primary job is to keep parents away from other faculty and administration members. Your child is now an adult, pursuing his or her own future. Don’t get in the way.
8. Protect the last month of the semester. In many college courses, up to 70 percent of the course grade is awarded in the last month of the semester. Do not distract your child with winter vacation plans, worries about finances or what to major in, family events and celebrations, or other activities during the crucial November-December and April-May periods. These are “make or break” times for your child. Respect them.
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9. Talk about the realities of excessive drinking, drugs, and partying. Many college students experiment with campus drinking, recreational drugs, and all too much partying. First-year students can quickly get in over their heads and wind up causing all sorts of danger -- both to themselves and to others. Educate your children about the importance of acting responsibly -- even when their college-mates are acting stupidly.
10. Direct your kid to appropriate campus resources. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, a child has difficulty in college -- either academic or personal. Alert your kid to the many college services available free of charge. The writing center, the counseling center, the health service, the international student center, the academic advancement center, the center for students with disabilities. All of these are available to help your student on a moment’s notice. If your kid is in trouble, consult the college website or catalogue for a complete listing of the college resources. Then encourage your student to go.
BONUS TIP. Show your kid that you care. No matter how your kid does at college, you’ll always be his or her parent. And he or she will always be your child. Show concern, compassion, and love throughout your kid’s college life. College is a hard thing. It’s made easier when parents show that they care.
Dr. Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S Hyman are authors of the book Professors' Guide to Getting Good Grades in College -- the first instruction manual for college. You can download a free chapter here, or e-mail Lynn and Jeremy a question or comment here. We'd love to hear from you!
© 2008 Professors’ Guide LLC