The Role of the Student
At Penn State, we expect our students to become increasingly responsible for their own actions including their academic and social decisions, and we expect them to abide by community standards. We want students to explore the educational opportunities available to them, select a major in which they will succeed and enjoy, and put forth their best efforts in the classroom at all times. We also want students to take advantage of the tremendous array of opportunities outside of class by choosing meaningful ways to become active citizens in the campus and broader community.
Penn State’s Role
Penn State aims to be the most student-centered research university in the country. To this end, faculty and administrators strive to support our students by providing them with the necessary resources to be successful both in and out of the classroom.
Supporting Your Student
Many incoming college students see their family members as trusted coaches and sources of support in life, which is not likely to change when they begin their Penn State career. While your student is beginning a new chapter, we hope you will not underestimate the important role you will continue to play in their lives. Students need you to support their growth, development, and independence, and to be a stable force in their ever-changing world.
Whether your student is living away or commuting from home, support your student by staying connected. For those with students living away, this may be via phone, e-mail, and even ‘snail’ mail. Expect that your student will not respond to all of your contacts, but know that they appreciate hearing from you. Be sure to visit, but not too often. For those with students living at home, continue to have conversations about how they are adjusting to college. Recognize that they are going through a transition and that some of the expectations at home may need to adjust as they become more engaged on campus.
Give your student the opportunity to share feelings and ideas with you. Your student is experiencing new viewpoints and perspectives that may challenge prior belief systems. Allow them to explore ideas without being judgmental. Understand that changes in viewpoints, behavior, dress, eating and sleeping habits, and relationships with family members are all to be expected. However, if you suspect that some of these changes may be signs of bigger academic or social problems, trust your instincts. Your student may need you to refer them to the appropriate resources described in this Guide for help.
Be Knowledgeable about Campus Resources
Utilize this Parents & Families Guide. The resources outlined here are designed specifically to provide helpful information about the University. Helping your student to navigate by referring them the appropriate resources is one of the best ways for you to coach your college student during this transition to adulthood. By acting as a referral source, you can demonstrate that you are interested in your student’s life at the University, and at the same time, you empower your student to solve their own problems.
Continue to Have Difficult Conversations
While you may not have the same access to your student’s daily life, you still have influence on your student’s behavior. In college, your student, especially those living away from home, will have to make their own decisions about what time to get up in the morning, when to study, when to exercise, which organizations to participate in, whether or not to eat healthily, whether or not to drink alcohol, and whether or not to engage in romantic relationships. Although you cannot force your student to behave as you would want them to, parents can share their values and beliefs on these topics. Create an atmosphere of open communication, and your student will not only appreciate that you respect them as an adult, but will also be more likely to turn to you for guidance.
Do Not Tell Your Student “These Are the Best Years of Your Life”
The first year of college can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and, most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and exciting people. It may take a while for your student to realize that their idealistic images of what college is all about may be wrong. The reality is that there are times in college when your student might be scared, confused, and overwhelmed, which is normal and to be expected. Parents can help by understanding the highs and lows of college life and by providing the support and encouragement to help their student understand this as well.
Your student will change, and so will you. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring. It is also challenging. You can’t stop change; you may never understand it; but you can accept it, which is to you and your student’s advantage. Remember that your student will be basically the same person who you sent away to school.
Trust Your Student
College is a time for students to discover who they are. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own uncertainties. Trust your student and trust the job you have done in getting them to this point in life.
Adapted from Helping your first-year college student succeed: A guide for parents by R. H. Mullendore and L. Hatch (2000).