How Parents Can Stay Involved, On and Off Campus

By Diane Schwemm with Priscilla Childress

There are so many ways parenting a college student differs from the younger years. Remember all those games/concerts/performances you watched, and how you actually knew the other kids/coaches/instructors? And parent-teacher conferences — my sons attend a large public high school, but a few times a year I do get to sit across a table from their teachers and discuss their progress, challenges, and goals.

Don’t get me wrong — I am very okay with my blissful ignorance about most of the nitty gritty details of my college sophomore’s daily life. (Emphasis on “gritty” — when I visited him recently, he warned me, before showing me around his new dorm, “My room is messy.” No, really? I am shocked, shocked!) I know what courses he is taking, but not where and when they meet, or what his classroom experiences are like. I’ve heard about awesome professors and track coaches but haven’t met them (and likely never will). Drop me in the middle of the main quad of his Massachusetts campus 2,000 miles away and I could find my way to major landmarks — the dining hall, library, and athletic fields — but would be stumped if asked to locate the student health center or the science building where he works as a teaching assistant.

Again, this is as it should be. He is living his own life now, and learning to be capable and independent. But I would love to feel more connected to his school — to understand and appreciate it more fully, and to support its mission. How do parents of college students engage?

Turns out, there are many ways. Schools truly appreciate parental contributions (and not just financial ones). Expert Priscilla Childress suggests these opportunities to volunteer and be supportive both on and off campus:

  • Attend family events on campus  The Office of Parent and Family Programs at your student’s school plans many events to help parents reconnect with their students and enjoy all the campus has to offer: Family Weekend, Grandparents Day, and Siblings Weekend, to name a few. Special parent receptions are often part of other campus-wide events such as Homecoming Weekend.
  • Sign up to get the latest news — Make sure to sign up for the e-newsletter if there is one. Many schools capitalize on the popularity of social networking by hosting a parent Facebook fan page and/or parent Pinterest board.
  • Join the Parent Association — The Parent Association (or Parent Council) is a great way to meet fellow parents and find out how to help out, on campus or from a distance, as well as to support the annual Parent Fund.
  • Volunteer to host a summer send-off for new students  Summer roundups and send-offs are a chance for incoming freshmen to meet other students, recent alums, and sometimes representatives from the college before the school year starts. These get-togethers are key for parents, too. Families who live in the same area can connect with each other and share useful information.
  • Sign up to be a parent ambassador  Parent ambassadors are needed to help with campus events and to be resources for new parents throughout the year. What a great way to share what you’ve learned about parenting a college student!
  • Volunteer with the Career Center Offer to assist the Career Center as a mentor. Support students by sharing your expertise in resume writing, by coaching them in the interview process, or by offering to sponsor an internship at your place of work, or host an intern in your home.
  • Attend theatre productions, dance recitals, and athletic events Even if your own student isn’t a participant, college and university productions offer wonderful entertainment and are a fun way to spend time with your student. Enjoy an afternoon cheering on the school’s student athletes.

These are just a few ideas for getting involved. Check with your student’s college or university to discover more!