Landing The Helicopter: Parenting for College Success

By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach 

It’s late August, and we know what that means! Family cars sporting snappy new college decals are loaded with computers, books, school supplies, linens, clothing, and tons of other essentials. Childhood homes are in the rear-view mirror as first year students are transported to their new colleges.

The beginning of college is an exciting and intimidating time for both parents and students. It can be difficult to break certain parental habits, but the new living and learning experience is the perfect opportunity to make a transition. Several College Advisor of New York admissions coaches are proud parents of college and university alumni. We feel your pain and we appreciate your excitement. We’ve been there. And we want to share some hard-earned advice. 

Children in college do not become college students overnight. They need to learn how to take an important exam, write a lengthy and convincing paper, and deliver a presentation in class. While they are doing the work of education they must concurrently determine how they personally best learn, handle social tensions with friends, manage situations with others who may not be their friend, responsibly supervise their own finances, do laundry, feed themselves, and control their own schedule.

The true business of college, education, is critical. The evolution from high school senior to college graduate is a long transition. Faculty know freshmen are still essentially high school students at college, at least until those first semester, mid-term grades are posted. Those scores are important, but they are not the final course grade, so if they deliver a wake-up call be thankful, not critical. It can be an emotional blow learning you are no longer at the top of your class. Your child may need to wrestle with his own priorities and create study habits that work for him. In fact, succeeding academically in college typically requires much more work than most students expend in high school.  Very few students make it through a challenging and varied college curriculum with a perfect 4.0. There is no single correct way to master course materials and a bit of trial and error is to be expected.

An excited and expanded mind is the higher education reward. Let your children be the architect of their own success. Ownership breeds responsibility. Students should select their courses with the help of their academic advisor and faculty. In most cases core requirements and the required classes specified for a major and will be the primary focus and be spread across eight semesters. The few elective slots will still be challenging so allow your child to dabble in another interest.  

There are no parent-teacher conferences in college. Professors do not want to hear from parents. However, professors are eager to hear from students, so, remind your child the faculty is there to help them. Professors lament their empty office hours and are disappointed when students do not take advantage of their multiple and sincere offers of assistance. Multiple research studies have shown that students who build relationships with a faculty members who shares their interests are much more engaged in their studies and graduate at higher rates than those who don’t.

Please 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. Do not distract your child with vacation plans, worries about finances, family events, or other activities during the crucial November-December and April-May periods. These are “make or break” times for your child. Respect them. 

The first night, week, month, and semester may be choppy. Chances are you will hear about all the misery and tribulations. In fact, your child may actually begin to talk about transferring, but we strongly recommend letting them struggle through to the end of the academic year. The exciting and engrossing activities typically outweigh the bad stuff, and many kids end up finding their niche sooner rather than later. If you think your child is experiencing a dilemma, please resist the urge to solve the problem. Express your support and perhaps brainstorm options for assistance. If your son or daughter does not know how to find help on campus suggest they ask their Resident Advisor (RA). Every campus offers extensive student life resources. There are safety nets available for academic, physical, emotional, and any other problem you can conceive. Problem solving skills are one of the unsung achievements earned at college.

The two most important aspects of college for your student are:  1.  That he or she develop a true interest to enjoy throughout life, and 2. That he or she develop a strong sense of independence.  Let your child grow into his or her passion. Parents can now sit back and enjoy their rewards!