What parents should know about college life


Whether this is your first time or your fifth time, sending a child to college can be a lot to process. Things are always changing, and it can be difficult not to obsess about what to expect while your kid is off on their own, learning and growing in a new environment. Given her own experience, Cindi Farmer, director of strategic communications at Arizona State University and mother of four daughters, opens up what she thinks parents should know about sending their kids to college.

Expectations vs. experiences

One of the key things to remember is that expectations might differ from reality. When I sent my first daughter to college, I wish I had known how different all of their experiences would be, and I wish I had known to trust that. It can be tempting to micromanage your child’s college journey. But at the end of the day, we design our own experiences, and college is where your child starts designing theirs. Sometimes their plans and dreams don’t necessarily align with yours. The college life they’re dreaming of may be different than the life you had in mind for them. It’s important to let them experience what they want and how they want. Sometimes that requires compromise. 

My first daughter, for example, chose not to live on campus. I worried that she would miss out on the community and people skills that come from living in residence halls, but she joined student organizations to stay involved and connected. That lifestyle fit her needs better than the traditional first-year experience, whereas my other daughters lived on campus for their first years and loved it. Nobody has exactly the same journey, and that’s something to be excited for, not nervous about.

Another example of different student journeys is the idea of working while in college. While the desire and motivation varies by individual, holding down a job while keeping up with studies definitely requires some extra time management skills. One of my daughters worked full time while going to school, and while she was very busy, she became financially independent faster than her sisters. Another daughter of mine was more involved with clubs and nonprofits, so she didn’t have as much time to work and needed more financial assistance, but it was a worthwhile investment in her growth as a person. 

When your child is still at home and in high school, it’s easy to get used to their presence, which means it’s that much easier to miss them while they’re gone. They’re another person to talk to — another source of warm, familiar and consistent interaction, and you’ve had them close by for their entire lives. It totally makes sense if you’re struggling to adjust to that absence.

They are not alone

It’s important to keep in mind that there are many support resources available to your student. Trust that they are cared for and supported by their college. Universities are aware that the transition from high school to college can be drastic, so there are people waiting to help your student every step of the way through their journey. And not only will they be supported by academic advisors, community assistants, professors, sponsors, counselors and more, but also by other students. A major skill students learn while in college is how to take care of one another and their community, so your child will never be without help or guidance. 

Trust your child

Keep an open line of communication with your student when it comes to visits, phone calls and FaceTime dates. Ask them how often they want you to call or visit. Your child is going to be really busy their first semester — try not to guilt your student into reaching out to you or calling you. Text them, or maybe set an “appointment” with them to catch up. Maybe you can find some time to talk every Sunday night, or FaceTime while they’re between classes during the week.

Pro tip: it helps if you don’t constantly remind them how much you love and miss them, although it can be hard to resist that urge. The truth is they love and miss you, too. But they’re in a totally unfamiliar phase of their life right now. There’s a lot going on and they’re busy keeping up with class, homework, exams, friends, appointments, their health, clubs, work and everything else. They have a lot on their plate. Be mindful of that and they will come to you. And, of course, most universities help facilitate family time with Family Weekend, so your student can show you around campus and update you on their life. If you maintain an open, trusting relationship with your student, they’ll share their stories and what they’re learning. 

Just remember to trust them. Trust how you raised them, and trust that if they do something you don’t necessarily agree with, or something you might consider a mistake, they’ll figure it out with the life skills you’ve instilled in them and the life skills they’re learning in college. Trust that things will be okay. 


Contributor Cindi Farmer, director of strategic communications at Arizona State University and mother of four daughters