The beginning of a college career marks many changes in students and their relationships with family and friends. It can also mean changes in beliefs, values, behaviors, and attitudes. Parents and family members provide a crucial support base for these new experiences. Understanding and adjusting to these changes is an exciting challenge for both students and parents.
What does it mean to be the parent of a college student? Parents play a vital role in the lives of college bound students, and many students still count on their parents to remain a steady and stable source of support and guidance. Parents can serve as mentors, offering advice and encouragement, while also promoting the independence, autonomy, and responsibility that are necessary for college life.
From the increased academic workload to the pressures of making new friends to the new amount of unstructured time, students may experience a great deal of stress or anxiety related to their new responsibilities as a college student. You can help your student prepare for these new responsibilities by discussing expectations ahead of time and by allowing your student to practice these skills before arriving on campus. The more comfortable your student feels about managing these responsibilities, the less stressful they will seem in the fall. In particular, the following are some of the experiences that many students feel are big adjustments when the come to campus:
Doing own laundry
You can help by making sure your student knows how to operate machines, understand clothing labels and symbols, and separate laundry as needed. Practicing before leaving home is a big help.
Sharing a room
You can help by teaching your student to respect a roommate’s personal space, property, and unique differences. You can teach your student how to communicate in personal relationships, how to set ground-rules with a roommate, and how to utilize University resources and Residence Hall staff when necessary.
Scheduling own health appointments/managing prescriptions
You can help by allowing your student to make health appointments before coming to college and by instilling in your student a sense of personal responsibility for health-related issues. You can also make sure your student knows the health history and has all of the necessary health insurance information prior to arrival on campus.
Navigating public transportation
You can help by providing the opportunity for students to practice using public transportation. Make sure that your student knows how to interpret the bus schedules, use transportation app, arrange for air/bus/train transportation, and utilize shuttle services to the airport (if necessary). In Ann Arbor, students can ride both the University buses and the local city buses (“The Ride”) for free, so it is in their best interest to take full advantage of these services. Students will learn more about navigating buses at orientation. For transportation to the airport, the Central Student Government sponsors airBus, a low-cost shuttle to the airport which operates during the University’s Fall, Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks. Students traveling at other times can learn more about airport shuttles online.
Connecting with University staff and faculty
You can help by having your student to take responsibility for communication with the University. Students should feel comfortable with University resources and seeking assistance from University staff, faculty, and graduate student instructors. Students should know which department to call when problems arise. You can help by resisting the urge to ‘come to the rescue’ by contacting the University departments yourself. Instead, encourage your student to contact the University departments directly. By encouraging students to take responsibility for themselves, parents and family members demonstrate confidence in their students. This confidence empowers students to be self-reliant and independent. The University can be a big place; students who don’t know where to go for help or which department to talk to, can reach out to the Office of New Student Programs, the Campus Information Centers, or their Resident Advisors for assistance. Students also receive a student handbook, the “M-Planner” at orientation. This guide helps students help themselves when comes to navigating a decentralized University.
Living within a budget
You can help by establishing a weekly or monthly budget with your student. Teach your student how to plan for regular expenses (monthly bills, personal supplies, groceries), as well as unexpected/infrequent expenses (new clothes, health care expenses, replacing broken/outdated property, etc.). Make sure they know how to balance a checking/debit account before they come to campus. Encourage your student to explore the money management information from the Office of Financial Aid and discuss with them what they learned.
Using credit cards
You can help by discussing expectations ahead of time. Should your student open credit card accounts? Or should your student use a debit-only system? Students will be bombarded with credit card offers on campus. Teach your student how to accurately compare the credit card offers, how to read the “fine print,” and how to act responsibly when it comes to debt management. Educate your student on the challenges of credit cards and how to avoid their pitfalls. Information about credit card education is available from the Federal Reserve , and the Office of Financial Aid’s “Your Money Your Life” provides some information specific for college students.
You can help by teaching your student how to accurately read billing statements, how to keep organized so that bills are not paid late, and how to resolve problems if bills are inaccurate. Keep in mind that at Michigan, monthly statements of account activity are available for students online. Students are sent email reminders to check Wolverine Access (the U-M database system) for their monthly statement. Students are responsible for payment by the due date. Students may also sign up their parents to view their student account data and have access to their monthly student account statements (eBills). More information about parent access to eBills is available online the the Student Financial Services website.
Making choices about alcohol and other drugs
You can help by communicating your expectations about alcohol and other drugs, discussing family values regarding alcohol and drug use, educating your student about campus resources, and encouraging your student to participate in the many alcohol-free events on campus. During Parent & Family Orientation, you will learn more about alcohol issues on college campuses and how to talk to your student about these topics. More information is also available online.
Personal & Property Safety
You can help by encouraging your student to utilize University safety resources, by teaching your student ways to keep property safe (such as locking doors, bikes, and laptops), and by teaching your student that personal and property safety are individual responsibilities. Additional safety tips can be found in the Annual Security Report & Annual Fire Safety Report from the Department of Public Safety & Security. Parents can also check their insurance policies to find out if personal property is covered while your student is away from home, and encourage your student to purchase renter’s insurance if necessary.
You can help by encouraging your student to learn about fire safety, including the route to be followed during a residence hall evacuation (instructions are on the inside of the room door) and how to determine when it is safe to exit a student room when there is fire and smoke outside the room. Parents can also help ensure that students only use extension cords (size 16 or less; UL certified) that are in good condition, and remind them to keep the extension cords free from any weight on top of them (furniture or large objects). More information about fire safety in the residence halls is available online. In addition, fire safety is a concern for students who move off-campus. Students moving off-campus (typically the sophomore or junior year) should read the off-campus fire safety information prior to signing a lease.