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Parents: Help your child prepare for college

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By Erica Osborne
Director of Student Success at St. Catharine College

Congratulations, MCHS graduates. More importantly, congratulations to the graduates’ parents. Your child’s diploma belongs just as much to you as it does to them. You spent 18 years packing lunches, helping them with homework, and serving as your child’s personal chauffer as you carted them to school, sports practices, and back home again. 
As you relish the thought of finally being “done” as a parent and dream of converting your daughter or son’s room into the media and recreation room you’ve always longed for the instant they are off to college (true story – that happened to me), I have news for you: your job is just beginning. Sure, you got your kid through preschool through senior year, but the trials and tribulations you’ve encountered thus far will pale in comparison to what lies ahead.
I have spent the past eight years working in higher education, and as I tell students that I encounter, if being a college student was easy, I wouldn’t have a job. I’ve made an entire career out of helping students take the step up from high school to college. For the average 18-year-old, that step can feel more like leaping over a mountain.
Freshman year is filled with issues that are a normal part of learning to be an adult. (And that’s what your child is now, though it seems unbelievable – an adult.) Don’t feel powerless to the changes that lie ahead. Instead, focus on what you can do this summer to help your child prepare for college.
1. Have your son/daughter do something academic this summer. I know that sounds like a stretch when your daughter’s goal is to work on her tan, or your son’s ambitions are set on logging in some serious hours playing video games, but it is possible. Have them read a book. Watch a documentary together on Netflix. Make them go online to research possible majors and career options. Keeping them in somewhat of an academic mindset will ease their transition back into the academic arena come August.
2. Have your son/daughter set their own alarm and get themselves out of bed. If you are the only reason your child has made it to school on time, it will be impossible for them to wake up and get going without you there to do it for them. I have witnessed more students fail classes because they couldn’t get out of bed (even for a class that didn’t start until noon) than I have seen students fail a course because they didn’t master the course material.
3. Have your son/daughter handle their own affairs. If there is a “to-do list” of items they need to take care of for college, they need to handle it themselves. It’s time that you stop serving as their personal secretary. Do they want to make a change to their class schedule? They need to call their advisor. Do they have questions for residence life about their living arrangements on campus? Have them make the call. It’s time for your child to be in the driver’s seat. You don’t want to be that parent who shows up with their college graduate to a job interview.
4. Have a conversation with your son/daughter about your expectations of them for their first year in college. Do you expect them to attend class? Tell them that. How do you expect them to behave outside of the classroom? Tell them. Even if they are going away to school, you would be surprised to know that the voice they hear in their head warning them about the choices they make sound a lot like the voice of mom and dad. Not that they will always listen, but you have more influence over them than you may realize.
The first year of college is not going to be easy. Hopefully, by the end, your child will look back on the journey knowing that they made some mistakes, but also realize just how much they’ve matured. And you can sit back, relax, and really enjoy your new media and recreation room (sorry, Mom and Dad – still not over that one).
Editor’s note: Erica Osborne is the director of student success at St. Catharine College. She previously served as the interim director of academic support programs at Bellarmine University.