Partnering with Penn State
We recognize and appreciate the important role that you have played in the life of your student prior to arriving at Penn State. We want this role to continue by cultivating an effective partnership during your student’s college career even as your role changes to that of a coach or advisor. Well-informed family members can help us connect students with the resources available to them and, in the end, help to ensure your student is successful. Below is an outline of Penn State’s vision for the roles that the student, University, and parents should play in order to achieve a successful transition to Penn State.
Your Student’s Responsibilities
At Penn State, we expect our students to:
- Become increasingly responsible for their own actions including their academic and social decisions
- Abide by community standards
- Explore the educational opportunities available, select a major in which they will succeed and enjoy and put forth their best efforts in the classroom at all times
- Take advantage of the tremendous array of opportunities outside of class by choosing meaningful ways to become active citizens in the campus and broader community
Penn State’s Role
Penn State aims to:
- Be the most student-centered research university in the country
- Have faculty and administrators that strive to support our students by providing them with the necessary resources to be successful both in and out of the classroom
- Take an active role in meeting this goal through general outreach and communication to our parents and family members.
Supportive Family Involvement
Many incoming college students see their family members as trusted coaches and sources of support in life, which is not likely to change when they begin their Penn State career. While your student is beginning a new chapter, we hope you will not underestimate the important role you will continue to play in their lives. Students need you to support their growth, development, and independence, and to be a stable force in their ever-changing world.
1. Support Student Autonomy
Young adulthood is a time when your relationship changes from an adult-to-child relationship to an adult-to-adult relationship. Does this mean that your student doesn’t need you? Absolutely not. Support your student’s autonomy by actively redefining your relationship, relinquishing unnecessary control, and encouraging responsibility and problem solving.
2. Stay Connected
Expect that your student will not respond to all of your contacts whether by phone, email or even “snail” mail, but know that they appreciate hearing from you. Be sure to visit, but not too often.
3. Check In
Your student is experiencing new viewpoints and perspectives that may challenge prior belief systems. Allow them to explore ideas without being judgmental. Understand that changes in viewpoints, behavior, dress, eating and sleeping habits, and relationships with family members are all to be expected. However, if you suspect that some of these changes may be signs of bigger problems, trust your instincts. Your student may need you to refer them to the appropriate resources described in this Guide for help.
4. Be Knowledgeable about Campus Resources
Utilize the resources available in the Parents & Families Guide. Help your student navigate the University by referring them to the appropriate resources. By acting as a referral source, you can demonstrate that you are interested in your student’s life at the University, and at the same time, you empower your student to solve their own problems.
5. Continue Difficult Conversations
You still have influence on your student’s behavior. In college, your student will have to make their own decisions about what time to get up in the morning, when to study, when to exercise, which organizations to participate in, whether or not to eat healthy, whether or not to drink alcohol and whether or not to engage in romantic relationships. Although you cannot force your student to behave as you would want them to, parents can create an atmosphere of open communication. Your student will not only appreciate that you respect them as an adult, but will also be more likely to turn to you for guidance.
6. Students Don’t Become College Students Overnight
The first year of college can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and, most of all, mistakes. It’s also full of discovery, inspiration, good times, and exciting people. It may take a while for your student to realize that their idealistic images of what college is all about may be wrong. The reality is that there are times in college when your student might be scared, confused, and overwhelmed, which is normal and to be expected.
7. Expect Change
Your student will change, and so will you. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal behavior and choices. It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring. It is also challenging. You can’t stop change; you may never understand it; but you can accept it, which is to you and your student’s advantage.
8. Trust Your Student
College is a time for students to discover who they are. Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own uncertainties. Trust your student and trust the job you have done in getting them to this point.
Adapted from Helping your first-year college student succeed: A guide for parents by R. H. Mullendore and L. Hatch (2000).