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Special considerations for students who live at home

More and more college students are living at home to make higher education affordable. Some commute from the get-go, while others move back as sophomores or juniors to save money. As parents, how do we help our commuter students have the best possible college experience? This advice from higher-education expert Jo Calhoun is adapted from the UniversityParent Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Commuter students need to be connected on campus.  Students living at home during college deserve to experience the same developmental growth as residential students. That means they need to practice the same increasing independence and responsibility in their daily lives.

In addition, research shows that students who feel involved at their college or university are much more likely to persist to graduation than students who don’t fully engage on campus. Making these important campus connections is more challenging for commuter students.

As parents, coach your student to:

  • Purchase a residence hall meal plan. After class is over, on-campus students usually go back to their residence halls to hang out or to eat. Commuter students can purchase meal plans that allow them to accept their friends’ invitations to go to lunch or dinner in the dining hall. These are significant bonding times with peers.
  • Join clubs and organizations. At the start of every school year, representatives of campus clubs and organizations are out in force with sign-up sheets encouraging new students to get involved. This is a perfect way for your student to meet other students with similar interests and finding a group of college friends is key to your student’s success. The start of second semester is another good time to jump into a new activity — your student has found a rhythm and developed an understanding of how much free time she has to work with. The Student Center or Union, and the online campus calendar, are great places to check for opportunities.
  • Find an on-campus job. Any activity that gives your student a home base on campus will be beneficial. Most offices hire student workers and can be another source of friends and adult support for your student.  With a job on campus, your student becomes an insider rather than an outsider.
  • Choose small classes or discussion sections. About half of all colleges and universities offer special seminars for first-year students designed to ease the transition to college and to help students cultivate the academic skills they need for college-level work. Students in these seminars and other small classes (or in discussion sections of large classes) are a primary network for your student.

Commuter stress

Students living at home face two major stressors that residential students do not have. The first (unless your student bikes or uses public transportation) is parking. Have your student purchase a campus parking permit right away. Students who try to negotiate on-street parking accumulate tickets, fines and stress. The best strategy is to follow the rules from the start and factor extra time into the daily commute because parking spaces may be at a distance from class.

The second stressor is ongoing family expectations and obligations. Cultural differences abound and should be honored. But as parents, be aware that expecting your student to be home for dinner at 5:30 PM daily is no longer realistic. Missing class to drive Grandmother to her doctor’s appointment is not workable. You will want to sit down together to discuss a new approach to chores, curfew, etc.

On the plus side, family members can be a tremendous source of support for college students. Love, support and flexibility — they mean everything to your student. Talk early and often about your expectations. Listen and adjust as your student takes on an adult identity and joins the campus community.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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