Supporting Your Child in College

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If you're sending your kids off to college for the first time, what's the best way for you to support them now? Matthew Rygg, PhD, University of Portland’s Associate Vice President for Student Development, stopped by with helpful advice.

Supporting your Child in College

1. Talk openly with your child about their academic and career goals.

I see a lot of students who are majoring in “X” because they think that’s what their parents want them to major in. Or, parents put a lot pressure on their student to choose a major that pays well.

At the end of the day, we want to students to graduate with a degree and have a skills set to be a contributing member of society, right? With unspoken expectations, there can be resentment and frustration on both sides.

Open dialogue about student and parents expectations are important, especially if parents are paying for part or all of tuition. Be inquisitive and show your support, and empower your student to make their own career decisions.

2. The goal of the first year is to help your student establish a sense of belonging academically and socially.

All of the research supports the notion that academic and social integration increases student persistence in college. You know your student best, and know where your student might struggle. Encourage them in these two areas where they might need extra support.

Academic engagement is something above and beyond going to class—a special research project with a faculty member or graduate student, a service learning experience in the community, or an internship utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom.

Social engagement means the student has developed a peer group and feel like they belong on the campus. This could include involvement in a club, organization, or leadership position.

Even though I was very extraverted and fairly confident in my abilities to make new friends, I was from a small town so my adjustment period was much longer. That’s not atypical. Encourage your student to get involved and engage. Sometimes they need a little encouragement in this area, even very extroverted students.

Two very concrete things parents can do:

Encourage your student to stay on campus on the weekends (if they are attending a residential university)

Encourage your student to build a relationship with a faculty member, or sign up for an experiential learning experience.Encourage your student to get a job on campus versus off campus. We know this is also important in terms of integration on campus.

3. If your student has a medical or psychological condition, help them think through how they will manage their conditions and treatment at school, independently.

Make sure your child has health insurance coverage and access to care in in the state they are attending college (HMOs can be challenging).

Then, make sure your student knows how to access care and make an appointment.

Does the student need to see a specialist?

How will the student get to the appointments and pick up their medication?

Sometimes students think they will try college medication free—I see this most often with anti-depressants or ADD and ADHD medication.

Because the transition to college can often be stressful and taxing, the student may not only need the same dosage, but an increase. So talk to your child about taking their medication, and discuss a detailed plan if things are not going well.

The Health and Counseling Center, Disability Support Services office, or Dean of Students office can be helpful in this area.

4. Embrace your changing role as coach.

Consider a slight paradigm shift from letting them go, to letting them grow. You’re still involved, your involvement just changes.

Instead of jumping in the game and passing your student the ball for the winning point, you are coaching from the sidelines.

Asking good questions like “How are you going to solve that? Who can you ask for help? How can I support you?”

You're helping your student develop important life skills. It reminds me of the Chinese proverb: give a person a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime.