Keystone logo

How Parents Can Prepare their Children for College

As parents, you could not be more proud, nor simultaneously more devastated -- your child is about to go off to college, leaving the nest for very the first time! For the concerned and caring parent, to help alleviate any stress or worrying about your college-bound son or daughter, here are some tips and advice on how you can prepare your child for life as a new college student. (Hint: If you raised them well, you can let them fly!)

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
How Parents Can Prepare their Children for College

As parents, you could not be more proud, nor simultaneously more devastated -- your child is about to go off to college, leaving the nest for very the first time! For the concerned and caring parent, to help alleviate any stress or worrying about your college-bound son or daughter, here are some tips and advice on how you can prepare your child for life as a new college student. (Hint: If you raised them well, you can let them fly!)

According to a report in the NY Times, 30% of freshmen students will not go back for their sophomore year. When they come home from their first year, many students opt to stay at home instead of returning to continue their studies. Why is that? What can parents do to set their children up for success in college?

Encourage Independence

First off, parents should model how, and encourage their children, to be independent. Once they arrive at college, for some students, it is the first time they have ever found themselves on their own. Instilling in your son or daughter -- early on -- to be independent is an essential learned life skill. If you’re not around to do their laundry, will they know how? Often, freshmen students have never done their own laundry before. This seems like a silly small thing, but it is exemplary of how parents can encourage independence, and life skills, simultaneously, by simply assigning their children everyday tasks. Dirty socks? No problem.

Teach Time Management Skills

Successful college-life independence requires time management skills. College students are overscheduled with classes, work-study jobs, club activities, homework, research projects, social events, and much more. Can your child manage his or her time effectively? Do they know how to prioritize things and triage tasks? To-do lists, calendars (both virtual and/or old school paper), journals, or even setting alarm reminders, are all ways to get organized and stay on top of a chock-a-block full schedule. Encouraging these type of organizational skills while still under your roof can ensure that they develop healthy time management habits. To make time management easier, we`ve created an overview of the top five apps every student should use to stay on track during their degree.

Help Track Finances and Manage Money

Financial accountability -- managing one’s own bank account and finances -- is not only an essential life skill, it is imperative for the first-year college student to grasp and put into practice. Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, says parents should start to talk finances with their children in high school. Almonte says, “Budgeting is such a great thing to teach them at this age. [...] If they mess up, it can be a small thing that can be fixed.” By the same token, he says, “College can be a time for a student to learn to manage a credit card -- provided the credit limit is low. It can be a tool to teach them the difference between needs and wants, and a low credit limit will cap the damage they can do to their finances.”

Teach Resilience and Problem Solving Skills

All children, and future college-bound students, can benefit from learning resilience and problem solving skills at an early age. Teach them to accept failure because failure can lead to success. Psychologist Marika Lindholm, Ph.d, notes, “We all want to protect our children from hardship, but constantly shielding them from failure doesn’t do them any favors. College freshman shouldn’t crumble when they receive a B or C on an exam, yet I witnessed this repeatedly. [...] Too many undergrads enter college with learned helplessness, a lack of efficacy when it comes to solving their own problems and overcoming hurdles. Make sure that you don’t always bail them out, pick up the slack, or make excuses for them.”

Allowing your children to make their own mistakes, and learn from them, creates resiliency in them, an important lifelong attribute. Breathing techniques, visualization, and reducing anxiety can also lead to better problem solving skills. Students need to develop the ability to apply problem-solving skills when faced with issues or problems that are new to them. The Brookings Institution encourages parents to let their kids “get stuck” and let themselves find ways to “get unstuck.” This can be challenging for parents -- to watch your child struggle is never easy -- but rest assured you’re helping them become successful college students, as well as future adults in “the real world.”

Model and Demonstrate Appropriate Goal-Setting

Nothing is ever achieved without making a plan and setting short-term goals to achieve the larger broader vision of a major life goal. Parents can model this behavior, showing their children that nothing is daunting when it is broken down into attainable smaller goals. Erica Lamberg describes how even parents can come up with a six month plan to let go and emotionally prepare for sending their children off to college. This can be an emotional time both for you and for your child. Leaving the nest is never easy, no matter how excited they might seem. If you can model appropriate goal setting with measurable targets and a plan, they can learn to do this, too.

Consider Enrolling Them in College Classes While in High School

Your child will arrive at their first day in college “ahead of the game” if you can encourage them to enroll in college classes while still in high school. Christopher A. Brown, father and parent of a daughter in college explains how beneficial it was for his daughter to enroll in college classes while in high school. He says she started taking college courses in her junior year in high school, and in doing so he points out, “She’ll carry a full load as a freshman, but not as full as she would have otherwise. That’s critical because she’ll have to achieve balance between her school work, holding down a job, and using her spare time to take advantage of the growth opportunities her program will offer that are outside of class time. This tactic saved us money, as well, because she took the courses at a local community college that had a lower per-hour fee than the college she’ll attend. Before enrolling your children, make sure that the colleges your children are interested in will accept the coursework (i.e. it will transfer) and on what basis (e.g. pass-fail or a minimum grade).” Setting your child up for success by enrolling them early in college classes, not only potentially saves you money, but also gives them the academic advantages needed to succeed in their first year of school, which will help them stay enrolled, and jumpstart them on the path to graduation.

Your child is on their way, venturing off into the world as a college freshman. They are leaving the nest, and if you’ve done your job, you shouldn’t have to worry about them. Setting your children up for success in college offers them the same skills they will use and put into practice as future adults. Time files as a parent--Congratulations on getting to this milestone. You raised them well, now let them fly!

S.M. Audsley

Author

S. M. Audsley is a freelance writer and poet who lives and works in Vermont, a small but mighty state in the United States. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast and a lover of potlucks.

Find a program in these categories