Tips for Parents

Here comes Family Weekend!

By Lucy Ewing

It will seem as if you have just begun to recover from move-in day when you’re invited back to campus for Family Weekend.

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High School Parent | College Parent

“Invited” means emails, postcards, and all kinds of reminders that your presence is desired. But is it required? Experienced students and parents share this valuable advice about whether to go and what to do.

Should you attend?

If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of your student’s campus, you may not think twice. But when our first child went across the country to college, my husband and I were still in sticker shock and didn’t book the flight. Anna understood but, as the time drew near, she shyly expressed regret that we wouldn’t be there. We were sorry, too — we attended the next two years.

Timing, money, and students’ own preferences are all factors to consider. Maura’s single dad attended Family Weekend her freshman year, while her mom chose a later weekend to visit. John decided he didn’t want his younger brothers anywhere near his local campus, where he was just starting to spread his wings. Catherine’s parents flew out for Family Weekend, but Chantelle told hers that she would be tied up with sorority events and it wouldn’t be worth the 2,500 mile trip. Hotels may fill up over Family Weekend — book your hotel room early!

What happens on Family Weekend?

A key benefit of attending Family Weekend is seeing your student acclimated and at home on her new campus. In addition, you’ll have a chance to meet the new friends who are becoming important to your student, and many of their parents.

Schools put together a rich array of programs for Family Weekend.  There are tours of campus museums and science/tech facilities, special meals in the dining halls, a speech from the College President, sports and performing arts events, and more. My husband, daughter and I particularly enjoyed a study abroad presentation — it helped solidify our support of Anna’s participation in the program a year later.

How should you spend your time?

Most students I talked to had been excited and proud to take their parents on a personal tour of campus. Also high on the to-do list was going to nice restaurants in town that the students couldn’t afford ontailgating their own. Several families ventured further afield to hike nearby hills and waterways.

“I loved showing my parents around town and just spending time with them,” Maura said. Is the big football game a cherished tradition at your student’s university? Here are some tips for tailgating in style.

A less glamorous but much appreciated “tradition” is a stock-up trip to CVS or Walgreens. My daughter admitted that she and her roommates watered down their shampoo and conditioner until parents visited! That’s not all that may need restocking. The minute we realized Anna and her roommates were nearly out of toilet paper, we picked up a 12-pack. We ran into three other parents in the dorm elevator, all carrying at least that much!

Finally, if your student is considering living off campus next year, it’s a great idea to use some of your Family Weekend down time to start checking out student off-campus housing options in the area.

What matters most?

Reflecting back, students universally wished past Family Weekends hadn’t felt so crammed. “I wish I had been more thoughtful about how I split my time between my parents and the activities that were a more normal part of my campus life,” Catherine said. Maura would have liked to hang out more with her parents in her room, but there wasn’t enough time between her rugby game and homework.

Parents agree that a slower pace is best. “Don’t feel like you have to go to every scheduled event,” Amy’s mom advises. “It’s a fun time, but very short. Set your priorities.” What if you can’t make the trip this time around? Chances are your student will still enjoy the company of other parents and possibly a fine meal. The next weekend visit will be on you!

A few tips from UniversityParent contributor Priscilla Childress for any visit you plan throughout the year:

  • Never surprise them! Students aren’t known for cleaning their rooms and being ready for drop-in guests. Many freshmen live in one-room doubles, so you need to consider the roommate, too. Whether you live across town or across the country, give your student plenty of notice about a proposed visit. Then be prepared for her to tell you it’s not the best weekend because of an away athletic event, a looming academic deadline, or even a social event that she’d prefer to go to over dinner with you (sorry!).
  • Allow your student to choreograph the visit. Let her decide what you will do together — she can introduce you to her favorite spots — and make sure she knows you don’t assume you’ll spend every minute together. You can entertain yourself on campus or in town when she’s busy.
  • Invite your student’s friends to join you for a meal. Students rarely turn down free food. This gesture is especially appreciated at times like Family Weekend — not every student’s parents are able to attend.

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