Advice for Parents of New College Students

So your child is going to college. This is a big transition for both of you. With all of the upcoming paperwork, decisions, and changes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But before you know it, your child will be stepping onto the stage on graduation day wearing their cap and gown and a big smile on their face, and it will all be worth it.

My mom, Marcia (top left) and my dad, Jim (bottom left) with me at Niagara Falls, NY

My name is Melissa Bonenfant. I am 24 years old and I am graduating from Fitchburg State University with my bachelor’s degree in Communications Media in December 2018. When I started college, there were a lot of things I was unsure about: financial aid, transfer schools, class choices, future careers, and even where to park my car.

Despite being a straight-A student in high school, I had no idea where I was going or who I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s because of my parents that I am actually finishing this 5 ½ year college journey with real career goals. I’m sure they were just as nervous as I was when we started on this college path, but we made it, and I know they’ll be beaming with pride when I take my diploma in hand on graduation day.

Looking back, there are several ways in which my parents support made all the difference in my college journey. I’m confident that these tips can help you and your student during this big transition and for years to come!

Help Out with the Big, Scary Details… like Financial Aid

One of the scariest parts of applying to and going to college for me was financial aid. Looking back, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but getting over that first, big hurdle is quite a jump, and can be intimidating to young students. I remember before starting college, and before the beginning of every single year, my mother sat with me and we filled out the FAFSA together. We always struggled a little bit with the logistics and numbers, and I probably could have handled it on my own, but I am so grateful to my mother for helping me jump that hurdle every year.

Illustration of a light bulbTip #1: Help your student with the logistics of college, especially if they are just starting out.

Work together to make sure their FAFSA is filled out as soon as possible to get as much financial aid as you need. 11 months before the start of the school year is the earliest you can file! Massachusetts also holds FAFSA Day events where students and families can find FREE assistance to walk through the FAFSA filing process from beginning to end. You can register for a FAFSA Day event online to get your student started.

 

Stay Invested, but with Respect

I always appreciated that my mother was an outlet I could use to share thoughts or ideas with, ask to read over a paper, or even just complain for a while. Having a pair of listening ears helps ease the stress of college, even if there was nothing she could do to help. She always made sure to ask questions and tried to understand my workload. It’s important for parents to stay engaged so that if challenges come up, you have a solid foundation to help problem solve.

While keeping the lines of communication open with your student is important, it is just as important to your student to respect their need for growth and privacy as well. College students are young adults that still benefit from supportive parents while exploring their own independence. While I lived away from home for a few semesters, I remember feeling a sense of pride and independence, which was exhilarating. But when things got tough, it always seemed like my mom knew just when to call and say she loved me. She wouldn’t ask about school or grades, she just wanted to see how I was and let me share with her all of my thoughts and complaints. I looked forward to every call.

Illustration of a light bulbTip #2: Take an interest in your student’s studies, even if you can’t help with assignments.

Having someone to complain to can be just as nice. Find a balance of communication that works for you and your student, even though it can be a little tricky. The challenge is to not nag about homework or grades- they aren’t in high school anymore!

Know Their Goals, and Learn How to Get Them There

Your student is going to college because they have a goal. Whether or not they know what that exactly means is another story, but there’s at least an idea. Maybe they want to become a marine biologist. Or a teacher. Or maybe they just want to get a bachelor’s degree and they’ll go from there.

I wanted to write, but I knew I did not want to be a teacher. Those were my only two solid goals. We discussed options and I decided to enter a Media Communications program because it would show me my options for how to become a writer, and what kind of writing I was most interested in. While my mom and dad wanted to give me the world to achieve my dreams, we did not have a lot of money. My mother encouraged me to start at a community college to save some money and transfer to a 4-year school. And I am so glad I did. Even when my transfer goals changed suddenly after I got engaged during the summer before my junior year, the MassTransfer block helped me transition my credits to Fitchburg State University. I got accepted, transferred my credits, and began classes that same week. I will be graduating from FSU this December 2018 with my Bachelor’s degree, and we saved a lot of money on my schooling (which came in handy for my wedding expenses!)

Illustration of a light bulbTip #3: Talk with your student about their goals, and decide together on a path they can take to achieve them.

Encourage your student to start at a community college. It will get their prerequisite classes out of the way and save you thousands of dollars. Plus, with great transfer agreements like MassTransfer, their credits may be able to transfer seamlessly to a 4-year school after they graduate with their associate degree. Ask your student to talk with their Transfer Advisor to discuss their options. Knowing all of the important information ahead of time will keep things on track so they can keep their mind on their goals and dreams.

Be Their Loudest Supporter, Every Day

I remember walking toward the stage at my MWCC commencement in 2015, listening to the varying decibels of noise as each graduate’s name was called. Then the speaker said my name, I started walking, and I heard a few muted cheers. Followed by one loud voice that shrieked, “LISSA!”

My name is Melissa, and my father, king of creating made-up words and nicknames, called me “Lissa-Loo” when I was two years old. It’s popped up a few times over my years since then, but little was I expecting to hear it echo across the room at my graduation. However, as the other memories of my MWCC commencement day fade, remembering my dad’s lone voice in the crowd screaming my childhood nickname still brings a smile to my face.

My final word of advice is simple: celebrate your student’s success! Your student has worked hard and accomplished so much by going to college; remind them that they have a lot to be proud of. Make sure you are their loudest supporter, not just on graduation day, but every day. Trust me, they’ll remember it. And you may just see the words “Thanks, Mom & Dad” written on their decorated graduation cap.

Illustration of a light bulbTip #4: Little efforts make a big difference – writing a letter or sending a care package of goodies can turn their whole day around.

Text a positive message on the day of a big test, letting your student know that you are proud of them. And to top it off, making a home cooked meal or favorite dish during school breaks is always the best way to lift their spirits!


About the Author: Photo of Melissa Bonenfant

Melissa Bonenfant is an MWCC ’15 alumna and graduated from Fitchburg State University in December ’18. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Media with a concentration in Professional Communications. She is an intern in the MWCC Marketing & Communications office.

 

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