You want to talk every night. “How about Sundays?” your son says.
You want to visit on Labor Day. “How about waiting till Parents Weekend?” your daughter suggests.
Your child’s first year at college is all about compromise — and that’s a good thing. You and your college student are negotiating a new relationship that’s built on trust, independence, and respect. At the same time, it’s fair to expect your freshman to keep their grades up, maintain a budget and call home every once in a while. Here’s our best advice to help parents set expectations for that tough first year of college.
How Often Should You Visit Your Child at College?
When your child is a high school senior, you can’t imagine going weeks without seeing him, let alone months. Once he’s in his first year of college, however, you’ll have to let go. How often should parents visit their child at college? Experts agree: Just once. Maybe twice.
Just once? Think of it this way: Your college freshman needs the first few months of school to settle in and get used to their new life. In October, you can visit for Parents Weekend. Six weeks later is Thanksgiving, and before you know it, your child’s home for winter break. You can visit once more in the spring if you want, but that’s all.
There are exceptions, of course. If your child’s involved with athletics or the arts, you’ll want to return to campus to see a game or performance. If you live within a short drive of campus, you may want to schedule some fun get-togethers, like lunch or a shopping trip. And if there’s an emergency — like your daughter getting mono during midterms — you may need to be there to help. Remember, if the unexpected happens, having tuition insurance can help you protect your student’s well-being and your peace of mind — by reimbursing college costs if your covered child must withdraw mid-semester due to a covered illness.
How Often Should Your Child Come Home in the First Year at College?
Some college freshmen won’t come home unless you beg them. Others show up on your doorstep like clockwork every weekend, bearing armloads of dirty clothes and stacks of textbooks. Both scenarios may be just fine; the key is asking the right questions of your student, and listening to the answers. Is your child busy at college on the weekends? Is she happily engaged with friends and activities? Or is she sitting alone in a dark dorm room, binge-watching Netflix?
And if your child comes home every weekend, is it because he’s naturally a homebody who enjoys being with family? Or is he having problems at college, such as an incompatible roommate? If the latter, ask him to come up with solutions instead of running home.
One more thing to think about: “If you find yourself encouraging your student to come home for weekends, take a moment to think about whether you want him to come home for him or for you,” College Parent Central advises. “Does your student need to see you, or do you need to see him?”1
How Often Should You Call Your College Student?
Staying in touch with a college student can be a frustrating exercise. Some students are naturally inclined to stay in touch with their parents. Others just…. aren’t. Maybe you haven’t heard from your son in three weeks, and his Instagram posts are the only way you know he’s alive.
As hard as it is, it’s best to let your student set the frequency and type of contact, whether that’s Sunday Skype sessions or quick chats between classes. The one exception is if you hardly ever hear from your child, except when they need cash or a care package. Then, it’s time to set expectations for a regular check-in. We’ve compiled a few more tips for staying in touch with your child at college.
How Much Spending Money Does Your Child Need for College Expenses?
This is a tough one. Most college freshmen will already have housing and food covered, but what about the extras? Freshman year is the perfect time to begin teaching your college student money management skills. Instead of unquestioningly paying her credit card bills, talk to your child about what you’ll cover and what you won’t. For example, maybe you’ll pay for textbooks and the cell phone bill, but not extras like clothes and video games. Maybe you’ll pay for trips home, but not for a spring-break vacation.
After your child has been at school for a month or two, ask her to create a budget that outlines all her college expenses: travel, car expenses, entertainment, activities, and incidentals. Use that to negotiate a monthly allowance, or let her get a part-time job.
How Should You Talk to Your College Student about Grades?
Many parents are shocked to learn that they’re not automatically sent their college student’s grades. Once a child turns 18, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act grants the student a measure of control over who sees those grades. If you claim your college student as a dependent for tax purposes, however, you retain the right to see his or her academic records.2 Or, your child can sign a waiver granting you access.
Most parents want to be able to gauge how their child is doing academically, which is understandable. Nevertheless, you want your student to be self-motivated. If you ask to see his or her grade report at midterms, be aware that a “freshman fall” — slumping grades in the first semester — is normal.3 Listen to what your student says, ask about their plans to get back on track, then step back and let them work it out.
One exception is if you have reason to believe your child is struggling with anxiety or depression. If that’s the case, encourage him or her to seek help from a campus mental-health professional. If your child must withdraw from school mid-term due to a diagnosed mental health condition, tuition insurance can help reimburse lost tuition expenses. Learn more about what Allianz Tuition Insurance covers.