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My Student is Going to College! What Can I Do to Help Myself and My Student?

Your student's transition to college is an exciting time of change for all involved. Along with these changes often comes a full range of feelings from excitement to anxiety to sadness for parents and students. These feelings are a natural part of the transition to college, but there are some steps that you can take to ease the process.

Taking Care of Yourself

  • Your feelings about the separation may be different than your spouse's but both of you are experiencing a major life change.
  • Share your feelings with other experienced parents, partners, friends…anyone who will listen.
  • Take up a new hobby… take a vacation after your student leaves home…read a book…get physical…do something for you!
  • Anticipate what separation from your student will be like BEFORE that day.

Be Prepared

  • Say good-bye before you even get to the dorm so the moment doesn't seem rushed and you can say what you want to say.
  • Brace yourself for the changing of majors…the average is 3 - just so you know!
  • Be prepared to hate seeing your student's room so clean.

Stay Connected: For You and for Your Student

  • Communicate: Discuss ahead of time how you will communicate regularly with your student (e-mail, phone, letters, etc.).
  • Get e-mail and learn how to use it.
  • Find your best calling night, usually Sunday, and ask how often - call without an agenda sometimes.
  • Send great gossipy letters to your student about high school news, sports, and hometown trivia.
  • Consider buying your student a cell phone.
  • Send family pictures, videotapes, audiotapes, funny cards, or clippings from your hometown newspaper.
  • Making and sending care packages that are really personal can be so much fun - like playing Santa (and often leads to a social gathering in your student's room).
  • Don't be shy in communicating how much you miss your son or daughter but do refrain from emotionally unloading.
  • Go to Family Weekend if at all possible. (Or - Decide with your student whether to attend family weekend. Lack of interest may be interpreted as lack of caring.)
  • Discuss good times for school visits…homecoming, basketball games, etc…. and plan them.

Celebrate and Remember this Milestone: For Everyone

  • Identify a ritual/ceremony that celebrates this rite of passage for your student and your family. An intimate visit to a favorite family vacation spot, a family party, or even a large neighborhood block party are some examples.
  • Save the e-mails and bind them for that graduation party.
  • Take lots of pictures…of their roommates…friends…packing…etc.
  • Write a letter before they go off to school about how you feel about them, their leaving, their accomplishments, them growing up.

Taking Care of Your Student

Be Prepared

Your student may experience psychological changes BEFORE setting foot on campus such as an increase in anxiety and worry. These are often due to relationship changes like saying goodbyes to life-long friends, increased self-doubts or doubts about college and concerns about leaving home. What you can do:

  • Provide support by asking gentle questions ("How do you think its going to be being away from your friends?")
  • Be understanding with the time your student wants with friends
  • Take advantage of spontaneous ways the family can spend time together
  • Encourage confidence: remind them of other times they have successfully coped with new places/new friends
  • Be there for them by increasing your time at home with them as the drop off date draws nearer.
  • Before your student goes to college, plan to discuss how to deal with the following: time management, finances, eating habits, laundry, safety, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.
  • Divorced Parents: If applicable, discuss ahead of time how payment for college will be handled. This can avoid putting extra pressure on your student.
  • Let your first-day college student be in charge of moving-in. Recognize this is an important step for them in attempting to maintain control on a day in which they may be full of uncertainty.
  • Make their first birthday (or holiday) away from home a great one.

Develop a New Relationship with Your Student

  • Be pleasant and flexible.
  • Talk in the spring time about the summer/holidays-what you're expecting when your student comes home-hours, jobs, car, money.
  • Set a date for a team effort to clean up your student's room at home and reminisce. For commuter students, helping your student to reorganize the bedroom can signal a move into a new phase of life.
  • Buy clear plastic containers to store their things in - so it doesn't look discarded, only saved.
  • Know your limits and what battles are truly worth it. (Most aren't)
  • Be available without hovering.
  • Let them make their own mistakes and achievements. No "I told you so's."
  • Listen. Don't give unsolicited advice (as one student put it: "if I wanted advice, I'd read Dear Abby.").
  • Don't cross-examine, lecture, or ask questions you don't really want the answers to. Instead, listen well and talk about yourself. Include the mundane. It gives the student a touch of home.
  • Laugh often; say, "I love you" often; trust that you have done your job and done it well.


  • Recognize that your other children are also affected by this transition. Take them with you (if possible) to help with moving in their brother/sister.
  • Discuss their worries, anxieties, elation, and sadness that they may be experiencing from this new stage in the family life cycle.


Requests to Transfer: if this comes within the first few months, be supportive and encourage them to hang in there for a little longer. Recognize that the transition to college is a challenging one and many students need time to make the adjustment. Extra support is needed now: call more, write more often, listen intently and empathize with them. Don't encourage a hasty decision. If after a few months of attempting to transition, the student is still struggling, you can contact Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility at 573-986-6191 for advice or concerns, or have the student set up an appointment to talk with one of the CDS counselors.

Wanting to Dropout: financial debts, failing grades, difficulty in connecting socially are some of the reasons students consider leaving college. If your student is seriously discussing this, you can contact Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility at 573-986-6191 for advice or suggest that the student set up an appointment to talk with one of the CDS counselors.

If Your Student is Experiencing Emotional Problems:

  • Stay in touch on a consistent basis
  • Ask how they are coping with stress and the changes
  • Try to visit once during the first semester, or have someone you know look in on your student
  • If you feel a problem is developing, ask generally how they are coping.
  • Take any sign that your student is having emotional difficulties (e.g., chronically sad, stressed, or depressed) seriously.
  • Contact Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility at 573-986-6191 for assistance on how to respond to your student's problems and concerns.

If Your Student is Experiencing Medical Problems:

Plan Ahead:

  • Assemble a basic first aid/minor illness kit for your student. Include supplies for minor cuts/scratches, acetaminophen (Tylenol), medications for colds and coughs, and a thermometer.
  • Make sure your student has a copy of their medical insurance card with them for emergencies.
  • If your medical insurance has a physicians network, check with the insurance company about what expenses will be covered while out of network, or if there are any physicians/walk-in clinics that will accept your insurance before an emergency arises. Make sure your student has a list of those network providers.
  • If your student is on daily medication, make sure they know how and where to get refills. Possibly transfer/establish the prescription at a local pharmacy like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, or Schnucks.

When illness occurs:

  • Be patient and understanding. Remember, this may be the first time your student has had to deal with an illness without parental support. Make suggestions for treatment of minor illnesses as you would treat them at home. Simply knowing you are being supportive provides a feeling of connection.
  • If your student's symptoms persist for several days after self treatment or worsen, suggest they visit the Campus Health Clinic in Crisp Hall, Room 101. Nurses are available during our walk-in clinic hours.
  • After hours, our on-line health handbook has suggestions for self-help for various illnesses and medical problems as well as information on when to seek additional medical attention. It also contains further on-line links to other medical sites for more information.
  • Our local hospitals both have walk-in clinics for after hour and weekend care of illnesses and minor injuries, as well as emergency rooms for urgent problems. Southeast Missouri Hospital ER Express (1702 Lacey St.) and St. Francis Medical Center Convenient Care (211 St. Francis Dr) are open daily from 9 am to 9 pm.
  • Don't panic because you feel helpless that your student is away from home and they are sick. Most illnesses are minor and resolve after a couple of days/a week. Encourage them to visit the Campus Health Clinic for evaluation, treatment, medication, or just reassurance.
  • As the school year progresses, don't be surprised if your student no longer calls every time they are ill. This simply means that they are becoming more independent and self sufficient. They will call when they need you.
  • Confidentiality in the Campus Health Clinic is mandated by Missouri and Federal law. This prevents the staff from discussing your student's health with you or anyone else without written/verbal permission from your student. The Clinic is not trying to prevent you from finding out how your student is feeling; we are simply respecting your student's new rights as a legal adult.


Phone: 573.986.6191
Fax: 573.986.6031
Crisp Hall 201-202

Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility
One University Plaza, MS 8220
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701

After Hours Services

Call the University Police Department at 651-2911 for emergency situations after hours, on weekends, or during session breaks. The University Police Department will contact the University's Crisis Response Team.