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A Parent’s Eye View of Higher Education: Is my student doing OK?

As parents, we want to see our children do well at college. Each of us has our own version of what “doing well” may mean. For many of us it means academic success; others of us hope for our son or daughter to affirm their career choice, or to form lasting friendships. They have spent their life preparing for college with their studying, activities, sports, and volunteering. Now, you may wonder, how is my student doing at The College of New Jersey?

The lines of communication differ for every family. Better access to email and telephone communication has increased options for staying in touch, but not guaranteed it. Like the blind person who is trying to deduce the nature of an elephant by feeling just one part, you may be hearing about only certain parts of your student’s life at college. You may have made attempts to discuss your student’s life away from home; still you may wonder what to ask or what may be important to know.

You know your student best, thus what areas you might be concerned about, or what areas you might want to make a special point of checking in about. We suggest the following themes to help guide the conversation, with some possible questions to ask and topics to listen for within each theme:

Interpersonal – How well is your student communicating with others? Are there conflicts, antagonisms, humor, satisfaction, or supportive exchange? Does your son or daughter seem positive about their ability to connect with others, including their roommate?

Social – Is your student reporting satisfaction with their social network or group of friends? Do they like and look forward to the activities they are involved in at The College, including joining student organizations? Are they making an effort to stay on campus during the weekend, when there are more opportunities to be social?

Health and stress/distress – Again, everyone’s definition of “health” is personal, yet there are universal indicators. Is your student reporting a high number of illnesses or other maladies? As far as you can determine, are their health habits remaining in place? Diet, sleep, and exercise/activity are important elements for “inoculating” students against stress/distress; it’s good to reinforce good habits. Finally, is there mention of feeling “stressed out” or other signs of feeling overwhelmed?

Academic focus and activity – Some of these areas are self-evident and just represent good common sense. Chief among these are items related to your student’s academic progress. Is (s)he attending class regularly and keeping up with assignments? Is there good balance with other activities competing for their attention? Does their discussion of their work reflect the concentration and focus in their class work you would hope to see? Finally, are their grades what they would hope or have there been ‘surprises’?

College is a major developmental challenge for both students and parents. Most who attempt it find it rewarding and fulfilling. It’s good to be as specific as possible in asking after your student’s well-being. If the answers you hear are positive in each of the above-mentioned four areas, you can be comfortable that all that preparation you and your student undertook in the first eighteen years is paying off!

If some area of need emerges, the discussion can shift to needed change and what will bring it about. The College has many helpful resources, available through the College web pages. A ‘family conference’ may help to clear up emerging difficulties before they grow larger. It may seem like a balancing act at times to respect your student’s growing autonomy yet continuing your parental guidance.

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