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Parents and College: Expectations from Parents for College-Bound Teens

With graduation upon them, college-bound high school seniors are eagerly looking forward to the fall when the freedoms, adventures, and new challenges of college await. Parents also are thinking about the fall, perhaps wondering how their teen will adjust and adapt. And while they wonder, parents should plan an “expectations from parents” talk with their teen.

Expectations play a big role in college success. Unfortunately, many parents have not made clear what they are expecting from their son or daughter once they land on a college campus. In fact, some may just assume their teen knows the expectations from parents; that assumption can lead to problems if the details are not discussed in advance.

Setting Clear Expectations for College:

The expectations from parents talk should cover three basic areas: financial, academics, and social behavior.

1. Who pays for what?

By this time, most families will have discussed how they are going to pay for college. But outside the obvious of who pays for tuition, fees, books, and room and board, there are many other costs to consider. What type of transportation will the student use and who pays for it? Who pays for: trips home on weekends or holidays, ordered-in pizzas, coffees between classes, ski or beach weekends, concert and movie tickets, spring break trips, even lipstick and haircuts? Make it clear.

2. What is the academic plan?

If parents are paying for all or even part of college costs, do they have a right to set academic standards? Some parents believe they do. Are you a parent that will fully fund a degree in engineering, but not one in music or art? These are personal decisions, but ones that parents need to make clear. Also, do you expect your student to achieve certain grades? What is the consequence if they don’t?

Consider the reason they don’t achieve a good grade. Is it because they hardly go to class, party too hard, or fail to seek extra study help? Or is it because they have tried their best and sought help, but the subject was just extremely difficult for them? Keep in mind that parents do not receive copies of grades like they did in high school. FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prevents schools from giving out any information about the student, including grades, behavioral or health issues, or even citations received for illegal activities. It makes no difference if you are paying tuition and fees—you only have access to your student’s information if he or she grants it to you.

3. What if they get in trouble?

One part of college that teens look forward to is making decisions about social activities without parent restrictions. Although parents cannot—and should not—control those decisions, they should discuss what will happen if their teenager finds himself in trouble with law enforcement. Again, because of FERPA, there is a good chance parents won’t hear about the trouble unless the student feels it is time to involve mom and dad. Such a time might involve multiple arrests, being kicked out of school, or worse, a serious medical emergency.

Begin an “expectations from parents” list. It makes for a much easier solution if expectations are clear before the student calls mid-term with a problem. If they understand all expectations before you leave him at the dorm parking lot, they have a better chance of having a successful college experience.

Carol Jones

P. Carol Jones is the author of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?.