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Top Ten Tips for Parents of College Students

By Rachel Most
Associate Dean, Professor, College of Arts & Sciences; Mother of two adult children, both college graduates.

1. Do your children get themselves up in the morning?

If not, the summer is the time to learn!

2. Grades, Problems, and Asking for Help.

Students must make academics a high priority beginning with the first year. Remind your children that it may take them a while to adjust to the rigorous academic demands of college. Tell your children you heard that there were lots of resources to help; encourage them to seek out these resources.

3. Taking Care of Business.

Tell your children to pay attention to email from their school, from faculty, and to the school’s academic calendar. They should check websites frequently. Help them help themselves.

4. Establish Strong Relationships with Advisers and Faculty.

Many of the strongest bonds between students and faculty are either formed in a classroom setting or happen as part of the advising relationship. Tell your children to seek out their instructors and adviser; they should go to faculty office hours and introduce themselves. Tell them to ask for help when needed.

5. Course Selection.

Don’t take care of your children’s academic business; provide just enough assistance for them to get the job done independently. In other words, your role is changing from coach to cheerleader. Be supportive but let them find their own way. It is crucial for students to take responsibility for their own education. To that end, please don’t register for your children, pick their classes, or develop a four-year plan for them.

6. Choosing a Career/Choosing a Major.

These are not the same thing! A student’s major should be what they love to study; the career(s) will come later.

  • Each student must make their own choice — not you. Students will need 10 or more courses in their major, so they should select something they truly enjoy studying. The more they like what they do, the better they will do in that area.
  • An economics or business major doesn’t guarantee a job, and an archaeology major doesn’t mean a jobless future.
  • Just because an occupation is “hot” now does not mean it will be equally in demand in five or 10 years, or that your child has the aptitude or motivation for it. They need to make this decision; they need to choose — not you.
  • There are some excellent websites that help students understand how to apply what they have learned from their major, any major, to the workplace.

Regardless of what your child chooses for a major, they should be able to demonstrate strengths in at least two or three of the following areas:

  • Research skills
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication skills (e.g., written and oral)
  • Computer skills
  • Quantitative skills (e.g., statistics, economics)
  • Scientific skills (e.g., lab skills, scientific research)
  • World language skills
  • Leadership skills (e.g., supervisory, extracurricular leadership roles, teamwork/team leader)

7. Taking Time Off.

Many students choose to take time off during college or after graduation and before attending graduate school or taking a career-related job. We support such decisions because we find that students who want time away benefit from the break and return strong.

8. Using the University Career Center.

Students can begin using the University Career Center at any point in their four years; they should not wait until their last semester! This office provides individual career counseling/advising, career planning workshops, internship assistance, and career fairs and programs. The office also has a full-time pre-health and full-time pre-law adviser. (See Career and Professional Development.)

9. Outside-the-Classroom Events.

Encourage your children to go to lectures, plays, sporting events, concerts, etc. A portion of the Student Activity Fee gives students the opportunity to reserve one complimentary ticket online for themselves for every performance of each Arts Dollars-subsidized event. See UVA Arts Dollars Program.

10. Pace Your Advice.

Don’t bombard your children with all of this advice at once. Store it until you need it. If you aren’t sure how to get a conversation started, try some of these questions:

  • What are the names of all your professors? What do you know about them? Do you know their background, educational training, or interests? How often do you meet with them?
  • Has any faculty member given you encouragement? Have you even spoken to a faculty member? Have you ever met with your faculty adviser or academic dean?
  • Do you understand the objectives of each of your classes?
  • Have you had to do any report or research writing? On what? What did you think?
  • What is your academic situation for next term? Are you planning a larger course load or a smaller course load?
  • Academically, what has been the most interesting class or lecture?
  • Have you regularly attended all of your classes? Really?
  • Do you ever get discouraged? What about? Care to talk about it? Can you think of anything we could do to help? We would like to, you know.
  • Are there any groups or organizations you are thinking of joining? If you did, would such a group take a lot of your time? Would membership be of benefit to you academically?
  • How much of a shock was college life for you when compared with high school?
  • What is the title of the last book you read? Was it a textbook? Novel? Did you enjoy it?
  • Have you experienced total sleep deprivation and was it “all that studying” that did it?