Tips for Parents

Parent Expectations at Orientation

Going away to college is a monumental event in a young adult’s life. Behind most incoming students are supportive, excited and attentive parents or family members. To ease the transition – and put parents at ease – college orientations must include sessions for parents that consider their needs and concerns.

At University Parent, we partner with more than 130 colleges and universities to provide parents with a support network and comprehensive information about their child’s school. Our parents also look to us to provide general tips, encouragement and the advice of other parents.

We tell our parents that college orientation is a taste of what life will be like for their students, but it’s also a time for parents to ask questions and voice concerns, while giving their child space to break away from them to meet new people and experience campus life. With that in mind, parents expect the following at orientation:

Nuts and bolts

Parents will likely be armed with questions about tuition costs, FAFSA and financial aid. We recommend that parents start working with their students on budgeting for the upcoming school year during the summer before, and the school’s detailed information at orientation helps them do this. Parents appreciate a breakdown of everything students receive for the cost of attending the school, and because the information can be overwhelming, handouts to take home and digest are helpful.

Typical cost-of-living information for the town is also useful, like average apartment rent to keep in mind when students are upperclassmen, average campus job wages, and community discounts for students at restaurants, movie theaters, etc.

Keep it informative. At orientation, parents generally don’t appreciate school promotion and time spent touting the school’s achievements. Their students have already chosen this school; there’s no need to “sell it” to them.

Technology

Technology plays a critical role in academic achievement, and parents consider this a priority at orientation. Technology sessions should detail the internet network on campus; recommended hardware, operating systems and additional software; and a move-in checklist for residence halls. If local stores or the university provides students with discounts on hardware and software, provide that information at orientation, which could save parents hundreds of dollars.

Parents’ comfort and experience with technology will vary. Using technology during orientation sessions, like Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, software demonstrations and multimedia tools, will allow parents to experience how their students will be taught. Include a step-by-step demonstration of widely used software programs, like Blackboard.

Health and Wellness

Many parents fear the newfound freedom their children experience in college. Even if they trust their own children to make safe decisions, that doesn’t account for the hundreds or thousands of other students around them. Orientation should cover the university’s role in students’ health and safety.

Share the university’s policies on underage drinking, hazing and on-campus crime. These sessions should also include everything from the clinic to vaccinations to health insurance to gaining the “Freshman 15.” Just because parents become empty nesters, it doesn’t mean their nurturing tendencies stop. Insure parents that their children will have access to the right resources and people during emergencies.

Apart from physical wellness, mental health may also be on parents’ minds. Incoming students experience a healthy level of anxiety. Put parents’ minds at ease if their students are nervous. Once classes start, freshmen experiencing homesickness can be perceived by parents as depressed. Explain to parents the indicators of depression and how to encourage their students when they’re homesick.

Opportunities for feedback

For parents who have never sent a child to college, there are plenty of uncertainties. And for parents with children already in college, they might have even more questions, knowing what to ask this time around. Offer them opportunities to be involved in orientation sessions. Discussion forums, Q&A sessions and mixers with current students will allow parents to benefit from staff and faculty input, as well as other parents and students. Any information they had hoped to glean from orientation that wasn’t addressed in other sessions can be covered in these less formal sessions.

Orientation challenges

In the past, universities faced challenges in getting parents to attend orientation, let alone being excited to be there. The Associated Press recently reported strong support by parents for orientation; at one school, as much as 90 percent of students now have a parent at orientation. While some refer to involved parents as “helicopter parents,” it’s important to value their participation and help them to direct their energy in ways that support their children’s independence.

Today’s challenge for universities is to engage parents the entire time, allowing students to make new friends, tour the campus and experience college life without their parents. In the months leading up to multiple-day orientations, schools should provide parents with local hotel information, advising students to stay in the dorms and parents to make arrangements elsewhere.

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