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Top Five Tips for Parents Whose Students Are Off to College for the First Time

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It's that time of year... students are heading off to college, often for the first time. And, both they and their parents are nervous.

We've been around since 1896. So, quite literally, the first students were dropped off at our gates via horse and buggy. In the early 1900's, the Webber Express train shuttled faculty, staff, and students from our summer campus in Boston to our winter campus in Babson Park, Florida. So, we've seen a lot of anxious parents over the decades. Take a deep breath -- it will be okay, we're going to take good care of them -- and read these top five tips.

1) Give it time. Your son or daughter just got thrust into adulthood. It's a big transition. They don't yet have a lot of experience being an adult. Lots of things are going on. It's stressful. They'll adjust. Give it a little while. About 10 percent of our students come, within the first hour or two of meeting their roommate (often the first person with whom they have ever shared a room) asking to change roommates and are reminded of our "no matter how much you hate your roommate, you cannot change rooms for two weeks" policy. And, an amazing thing happens: fewer than ½ of 1 percent come back to actually change roommates. The vast majority, having had dozens of opportunities to switch accommodations and/or roommates, are still roommates at graduation. Many go to each other's weddings -- often a few states or even a few continents away -- and other events years or decades after graduation.

2) Sometimes, it's just venting. Few colleges are, in fact, evil. We're a small school which actually makes faculty teach instead of shoving it off on graduate assistants. We insist that professors have office hours during which a student can walk in without an appointment and talk to their actual professor (imagine the indignity of students just being able to walk in and talk to their professor!) Yet, we get over 200 applications for any faculty position we post. I simply don't need to hire bad faculty. And what do you really think is more likely... the entire kitchen staff forgot we were serving breakfast just like we did for the last 42,522 mornings in a row - including on rare occasions through a power outage -- and not a single employee showed up, or your son or daughter slept through breakfast?

3) College is a full time job. The best thing about my job is graduation, when we see folks who walked in kids leaving as adults, more often than not with their first job already lined up. We have moderately selective admissions and incredibly high job placement rates. The only way to pull that off is by being intense. College is intense, and a lot of work. And, your son or daughter has a schedule to follow, and it can be pretty unforgiving (a couple of consecutive days of missed math class can sink you!) They simply cannot be missing a lot of class the 32 weeks a year we have them; they'll be home 20 weeks (plus an occasional long weekend). You just don't do them any favors by making them choose between attending a family event and taking their final exam.

4) Keep giving good advice. Amazingly, the downhill slide during high school reverses itself and parents start getting smarter during college! I've told them to go to class, even if they are sleepy. I've told them not to leave their phone lying around because we know folks who have had their phone stolen at church -- church! I've told them that even on safe campuses bad things can happen so they need to sign up for the emergency messaging service, look both ways before crossing the street, and be aware of their surroundings, especially when they venture off campus to the big city.

And, I've told them that if they find themselves off campus not able to drive home, we'll send someone to get them and bring them home, even if they are not of lawful drinking age (don't fool yourself... there's a bar near campus - every campus - which doesn't card). And, I've told them if they have a fever they should go see the nurse, and, if she sends them to the doctor, they should go (that's why we make them have good insurance). Hearing the same good advice from you surely cannot hurt. You just think they're not listening to you.

5) Resist the urge to call the college or university. You'll be tempted, but resist. Of course it would be more efficient than letting your student deal with it. You and I have had years and years of experience at it, so we are better at solving problems than is your son or daughter. But no good college is going to do anything for you they would not do for your son or daughter. Sure, you and I could almost certainly fix a problem -- almost any problem -- quicker than could your son or daughter, because we've learned all those social navigation skills and all those problem solving skills. But, we don't really need to learn how to do these things, do we? Better for them to learn these skills at college, with a big safety net under them, than in the workplace. And, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard "Oh, I am so embarrassed. I see you every day at lunch and would have come and talked to you if I needed to. I was just having a bad day and needed to talk to someone and had no idea they'd call."

And, there you have it. It's a tough transition, for all of you. But I walk through the campus every single day, and I see the weekend laundry runs (new popular item on campus: laundry hampers with wheels and handles). They'll be back to visit, snack, do laundry, and stock up on supplies soon and you'll doubtlessly be both saddened and filled with joy to note that they've grown a bit with every visit!