How Parents Can Help, from a Professor’s Perspective


During my 30 years in Student Life, some of the richest growth for students happened when we, as campus leaders, partnered successfully with parents. That partnership starts now, before your student sets foot on campus. Know that we join you in your student’s corner; know that we trust your wisdom. Know that we are grateful to share this journey with you. — Jo Calhoun

As parents, you have invested years in preparing your students for this “independence day” when they start college. You are still their most important influence, their touch point and role model. Before they go, please have a series of “pre-game” talks to help them be ready.

Here are suggested talking points for the first conversation.

Anxiety about change

It’s normal and it’s reasonable. Having been high school seniors at the top of the hill, first year students are once again at the bottom of that hill looking up. Once again, they have to adjust to a new culture, higher expectations, older classmates, and altogether new geography. New college students have typically been high-achieving in high school. During new student orientation, they are likely to meet peers who seem way smarter, much more sophisticated, worldly, and more than ready to meet the new challenges ahead.

This is a time when students’ self-doubt may swamp them.

Of course, all students are experiencing this — some just hide it better than others! Generally, once students get into the classroom, they realize that the playing field is relatively level and remember that they are prepared. On the other hand, during their first year in college, students may receive their first C, D or F grade. Parents understand that this is not a tragedy. But to an 18-year-old, it may feel like one.

Share Coping Mechanisms

Prior to college, adolescents may not have had the experience of using coping mechanisms to get to the other side of a crisis successfully. Their emotional health might be challenged by initial bumps in the road.

  • Coach your student on ways to keep calm and trust the process: ask for help, get involved, practice self-care, reach out to others, explore the campus, search out resources.
  • Affirm your unconditional support and your unwavering confidence in them.
  • Stay in touch with your students, especially during the early weeks, to monitor their emotional health.

Jo Calhoun has worked in Student Affairs for over 30 years, most recently as Associate Provost at the University of Denver. Prior to that, she held administrative positions at Grinnell College in Iowa and the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her specializations include first year programs, academic advising, career services, and parent relations. Currently, Jo serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver and she contributed to UniversityParent’s newly-published Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year now available on