Sending Your First-Year Student Off To College? Parents Share Experience And Advice For Move-In Day
As fall approaches, many families across the country are getting ready to send a student to college for the first time—a momentous occasion for the whole family.
Colleges and universities in their turn are preparing to welcome new students and give them a strong footing to begin their new lives, with student orientation programs designed to help students settle in, connect with others, discover resources and ultimately thrive.
No less important are parent orientation programs. Increasingly, colleges and universities are focusing on providing quality orientation programs for parents, connecting them with staff, fellow parents and resources to help them best support their students and themselves in the coming year.
At Harvey Mudd, we start connecting first-year families to the community with summer welcome receptions, held around the country in July and August and hosted by current parents. These receptions give incoming parents and students the opportunity to meet fellow members of the Harvey Mudd community in their local area and to discuss questions about the college experience with current parents and students.
When families arrive on campus for move-in day, we encourage them to participate in two days of parent orientation activities designed specifically to introduce them to the curriculum, campus life and campus resources. One of our most popular sessions is the academic overview, in which parents have the opportunity to hear about required courses, majors, electives and senior capstone projects, as well as to meet and talk with faculty members. Other sessions address class scheduling, independent living, health and wellness resources, and career services. We also hold a session specifically for families of first-generation college students.
One of the most valuable resources for parents of first-years is other parents. Harvey Mudd’s Parent Leadership Council (PLC), a group made up of parents of current students and recent graduates, holds a panel discussion during parent orientation to talk about what they wish they’d known their first year. Throughout the year, PLC reaches out to new members of the parent community and encourages them to become involved in college events. They also provide chances to network, get support, find information and resources and simply connect with each other.
I asked several members of Harvey Mudd’s PLC to share some of their experiences and tips for families who are sending their first child off to college.
Maria Klawe: Dropping a first-year student off at college on move-in day can be both exciting and difficult, with emotions ranging from relief to grief. What advice to you have for parents on move-in day?
Heather Mingst (Parent, Class of 2022): If at all possible, arrange to accompany your child to campus on move-in day. This is more for the parents than the child! It’s rewarding to see the campus, see your child’s dorm and room, and meet his/her/their room (suite) mates. It’s also great to meet other parents and realize you are not the only one curious (apprehensive) about your child living away from home.
Luis Lindo (Parent, Class of 2021): Don’t plan on spending much time with your student other than just getting them settled/moved in. I thought we would spend time exploring the campus together, but that was not how drop-off is arranged. We jumped right into orientation activities.
Maria Klawe: What are some things parents can do to support their first-year student in adjusting to college life?
Rod and Cathy Kusch (Parents, Class of 2019): Encourage your student to get involved in various aspects of campus life. Clearly academics and graduation are vitally important, but tell them not to miss the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ college experiences.
It’s also important to gain a working understanding of the resources a college makes available to students. At Harvey Mudd, they developed a great resource pamphlet and web site for parents that helped us point our son to the right resources. We really appreciated that. Once you know the resources of a college, direct your student there; resist the urge to solve the problems for them. For example, at one point we referred our son to Harvey Mudd’s Office of Career Services, and even though his life experiences up to then were very limited, they helped him develop an impressive resume.
Leonora Yih and Curtis Ching (Parents, Class of 2019): Remind your student that seeking help is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, the kids that are wise and perform well in college are the ones that seek help when they need it. If your child is struggling academically or emotionally, encourage them to seek help from all the resources available including proctors, mentors, professors, Career Services and Health Services.
Maria Klawe: What kinds of topics did you think it was important to address with your student before leaving for college?
Leonora Yih and Curtis Ching: It’s good to talk about expectations for communicating with your student during the year. We tried to set a plan of calling us once a week on Sundays. Unfortunately, we did not do a great job enforcing that! She is always telling us she’s incredibly busy. However, she is very good about responding to our texts immediately, even if it’s just a one- or two-word reply.
It also makes sense to discuss money matters with your child before leaving for college. It’s part of imparting sound financial management advice and skills to them. We started this conversation with our daughter during her high school years and reinforced it every chance we got. She is now earning money through her internships and is managing her money well.
Heather Mingst: A topic I think is worth discussing before your child goes to college is mental health and how to manage the pressures of college: academic, financial, social, etc. Most importantly, how to ask for help.
I also think it’s good when colleges can offer workshops or seminars on financial skills. Knowing how to balance income and expenses is a necessary life skill. I’d recommend integrating a financial literacy seminar into student orientation programs.
Maria Klawe: What are some things you wish you had known earlier, before sending your child to college?
Heather Mingst: At one of the orientation seminars, a parent told me that in order for me to have access to my son’s health records, he would need to fill out a medical release (HIPAA) form. I’m very grateful someone told me that.
I was also unaware I would not receive his grades unless he gave me permission (FERPA). I understand why, but I wish I’d known earlier so we could have had a conversation before I brought him to school.
Also, I wish I’d known about the Harvey Mudd Facebook parents’ groups the year before my son started school. I’m on it now and it’s a terrific way to connect with other parents and get feedback on any questions I may have.
Luis Lindo: I wish I’d known that visiting your student during the year can be hard to arrange because of their active schedule. Don’t expect to spend too much time with them when you do visit, as the first year can be very challenging. But as the student progresses so should the amount of time you can share in activities on campus and nearby.
Maria Klawe: How important is it for parents to find new ways to fill their time to combat empty nest syndrome?
Leonora Yih and Curtis Ching: It is very important. Sending my only child off to college across the country and later across continents forced us to let go suddenly, not gradually. The same year we sent our daughter to college, my husband took international assignments in Asia. We volunteered to be members of the Parent Leadership Council. During the four years, we were afforded opportunities to reach out to Harvey Mudd international families (parents, students, and alumni) in many countries. Although strangers in the beginning, we ended up being part of an amazing community. It gives a sense of belonging to something that is a big part of your child’s life.
Luis Lindo: We haven’t truly experienced the empty nest syndrome as we have a second child at home who now gets our complete attention, but I try to keep an even keel on how much attention is given to his sibling and not overwhelm him. We do of course miss our first child’s presence, but that makes the reuniting times even more precious.
Rod and Cathy Kusch: It’s important to find out if your student’s college has some sort of a parent support network. Harvey Mudd has the Parent Leadership Council and an excellent parent network that includes parent-to-parent advice and counsel, and a Facebook page just for parents. We were so impressed with the parent leadership program that we volunteered for it right away and continue to volunteer even though our son graduated!
Maria Klawe: What advice do you have for parents who live far from campus?
Rod and Cathy Kusch: If you’re able, try to develop a local contact that can act as a temporary “surrogate parent” for you if an emergency arises (e.g., crisis intervention, emergency medical care, etc.). Locals can also be a great reference for you, since they’re most familiar with the surrounding area. Since we lived within an hour’s drive of campus, we gave other parents a telephone number to contact us in case of emergency. They were comforted by the fact that a parent near to their student cared about them and their student.
Remember these three things that you can do from any distance: send money, care packages and notes of encouragement (i.e., ‘the three Ms’: Money, Munchies and Mail!).
Lastly, understand that attending college serves as an opportunity for your student to transition from being a ‘dependent’ adult to being an ‘independent’ adult. Even if you think your student is not well-prepared when they depart for college, know that in the end, they’ll be okay. Many other parents experienced the same life-journey through college, and it worked out fine!