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High School to College: Being A Supportive Parent

Money matters, flaky friends, dining dilemmas and rusty relationships are all going to be among a few of the hurdles they’ll face. Heartbreaks. Student/Teacher conflict. Overdrawn bank accounts. No change for laundry. Pub Nights. Peer pressure. Room-mate drama. You get the idea. But how will they do it all without you there? Will they know how to navigate these challenges on their own?

I don’t have a post-secondary aged child yet, but I do deal with prospective students, active students and many parents as they navigate the journey of transitioning to college. After working the DC open house this past weekend it got me thinking about what it’s going to be like when my little dude journey’s off to college – will I have prepared him? So I started talking to some of my friends, family and colleagues with college-aged kids about what the transition was like for them and things they did that were effective and things that maybe weren’t so effective for the transition. I decided I should share some of the value that came from those chats because I can’t be the only parent who wonders,  “how on earth will my kid survive without me being there?” but what parents really need to ask themselves is, “how can I best support my child during their transition to post-secondary?”. 

When your child goes to college, it’s a transition time for both of you. Here are some helpful tips that may help you transition and be the best support to your student…

Celebrate. What a huge accomplishment. This is a milestone in their life, acknowledge all of their hard work that brought them to this point and get excited with them about what’s to come. 

Be a resource. Remind your student that even though you may be a phone call away now, you will always be available to them as a resource to help them make decisions – not make decisions for them

Get real about their new reality. Give them the grocery list and have them go buy the items so they can understand the costs. Have them take their laundry to the local laundromat. Help them learn the bus routes and take the bus! Be open about some of the social challenges they may encounter – safe sex, responsible drinking, peer pressure.

Discuss the plan. There are a lot of logistics involved when a student decides to attend College. Sit down with your student and discuss all of the items that need to be accomplished and design a plan together to conquer it. Fees need to be paid, registration, apartment hunting, furniture, room-mates, residence, finances, the list goes on. Don’t do everything for them. You can remind and encourage them, even create lists for them. But when it comes down to it, let them take accountability – they will feel more accomplished and confident in their ability to do this on their own.  

Sticker Shock.  Do the research with your child to determine how much the school year is going to cost. Tuition, compulsory fees, program incidental fees, books, living costs, fun money, emergency money. Look at everything and from there, determine how much you can actually contribute. This will help the student identify how much they need. Creating a budget is an important part of being financially successful in College. The Financial Aid Office is a great resource to help students build a strong financial plan.

Listen to your kids. ​You know your child better than anyone. Take the time to listen to them. Discuss content of classes, rather than grades. This will help you gauge how your student is feeling about their college experience.  Talk about new relationships they’re making, ask about their professors, the food, and the weather. Try to withhold unsolicited advice – operative word – try. Easier said than done, I know.

Let them go. Heading off to college is exciting and scary. It’s the first time your child is entirely responsible for him or herself. Durham College offers a transition program, Start Strong, for all first year students to help them get acquainted with school services, connect with a success coach and complete college business. Remember college is not like it was many years ago – practice humility – there will be a lot for you to learn about college as a parent too. Ask questions and get involved but let your child own this experience.

Don’t expect perfection. Think back to your own college days. And that’s all I need to say for this one I think… self-reflection can definitely help you relate and stay in tune with what your child is going through. They need to know that you are in their corner rooting for them and that your expectations are realistic. 

It is so important to remember that the school personnel, faculty, administrators and support staff are there to help your student. At Durham College, the student experience comes first. We are passionate about our roles and are here to provide information and support so don’t be shy – we expect that you and your child will have lots of questions and we are more than happy to answer them!

Do you have any helpful tips, worries or concerns about your child heading away to college? Share them in the comments below!

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Celeste Coles

Financial expert, hockey mom, problem solver, fun seeker.

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