College Success Tips For Parents of Freshman

Let Go: 4 Success Tips for You and Your College Freshman

In June, every year across the United States, kids are walking across high school graduation stages.  Most have finalized any plans for attending college and fall courses await. I want to give my advice to parents from a dad who is also a college instructor for nearly two decades.  

Take these 4 success tips and use them. They can work even if you try just one.

Full disclosure, I am not a psychologist or counselor.  I am the father of 3 great kids, a former Marine officer, then a software developer, a  college instructor/internship coordinator and now trying to get a whole new generation interested in coding with

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The College Experience Has Changed

Excuse me sir, is this the Delta House?

Kent "Flounder" Dorfman in Animal House Tweet

I have been a guest speaker at new student orientation, parent organizations, and church assemblies for many years.  Being the father of three with one who just completed graduate school (YAY!) and two heading into their junior and senior years of high school.  I have a perspective as a teacher/dad I want to share.

I also wish what I know now, I knew back in college in 1987!  

The quote above from Animal House paints a somewhat stereotypical but one sided view of college.  My advice here may go contrary to what you may think about college but would not really bring it up with your son or daughter.

All I can say is don’t plant a negative seed by saying “oh…I skipped alot of classes in my day” etc..  

In my teaching life I teach and advise college aged students pursuing a technology degree.  We talk about classes, careers, and life. Yes….life.

Whether you attended college or not you should know that college has changed.

We have changed.

Most of us who are parents of college aged kids grew up in an era of no cell phones, riding bikes with no helmets, and riding in cars with no child safety seats.  Whuuuut??

We actually survived.

The kids we raised today that are heading to college don’t know a world without the internet and constant communication. 

They consume most of their media via their smartphone and they are often perceived as needing a lot of guidance.  What I have learned is they are ready for great things but need help in finding that direction.

I am not psychologist. I won’t lament over the positive or negative facts of the things influencing our kids lives. 

What I can tell you is how to deal what is coming your way if you have a young person heading off to college.  As their first week approaches they will begin to get nervous and tense.  Give them space.

They are about to start all over again and that is tough for anyone at any age.

My Success Tips For You

These are success ‘tips’ and not hard fast rules. 

If you use them, you may find you get the gift of peace in your household. I call them success tips because I have witnessed first hand that if students do this, they raise their chances of success in the classroom and graduate.

They will also be building a resume for their next step whether going into the workforce or continuing on for their advanced degree.

#1 Give Them A Book

Gaston: "How can you read this? There's no pictures!" Belle: "Well, some people use their imagination."

No, do not give them a textbook for their upcoming classes. How Star Wars Conquered the UniverseBuy them a book on a subject they like. A biography on a sports figure, a musician they listen to, how something was made, imagineers at Walt Disney World, or a book about Star Wars history like How Star Wars Conquered The Universe.

You get the idea.

Then do this:

  • Open the cover.
  • Write a simple message like “We wish you luck this Fall…Love Mom & Dad”.
  • Stick a placeholder there.
  • Place it on their bed and leave the room.

Let them discover it.

Why?: Most kids coming out of high school in June stopped learning in February. Their brains go dormant. What is most definitely coming at them in their first term/semester are reading assignments. 

Having a book around can be a good thing to keep the brain engine running so that when they start they won’t struggle.

Reading simply put….is fundamental.  Oh…and they will most definitely be reading when they start their classes.

#2 Breathe and Let Go (caution..easier said than done)

Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore! Elsa From FrozenLike the famous song from the Disney animated movie Frozen, “Let it go….let it go…”  you can do this. 

First, I want to tell you having talked with many freshman students over the years, they LOVE YOU. You did your job. But wait…I can hear you know. Not my kid…not yet.

Ok…why aren’t you trusting yourself? Tough question right? Seriously, you want to let them go. This is the last stop before they step off to career world. If they don’t use the giant sandbox called ‘college’ as a learning experience then they are laying the foundation for a poor college experience and will never take positive risks.

What I have seen over the years are parents calling me about grades and in a Forbes article, students and their parents going on interviews.

Some companies are actually adjusting to this. I get it. But I think the goal is independence, right? One of the keys to success in college is when a student ‘owns it’.  

So breathe, relax, and let go.

#3 Stop The Quizzing

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.

Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything Tweet

The days of arguing over the dinner table about what your young person will major and if they checked out school websites are now over.

You know by now, they know how to tune you out.

Want to know what they are doing or how they are doing? Try these questions….

“I never took a biology class, what is it like?”

“Does the professor ask alot of questions during class?”

“Have you met with your advisor or visited their office?”


Red Flag Time

By Mid-Fall (October) find out if they know their professors names. If they don’t, this is a major red flag. Remember, professors run the classroom. They are human beings who have lives plus they teach because they like the interaction with students. I always welcomed conversations with students after class. Some of my best conversations occurred with students as reflected on the talk that day. More importantly when they encountered problems and needed help, I was more than happy to lend a hand in some way. An extension for a paper, simple advice, or just being there to listen.

#4 Connect and Get Involved

We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days." I didn't realize that that was the only day.

Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham in Field of Dreams Tweet Star Trek The Next GenerationLike Jean Lu Picard from Star Trek the Next Generation would say while on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, “Engage!” and the ship would accelerate into outer space, your son or daughter needs to learn what this means.

They need to engage the experience known as college.  

In higher education getting involved means ‘engagement’.  No, not like getting married but simply connecting and becoming involved.

One of the keys to succeeding academically is to also augment the experience with one of the many activities outside the classroom. Remember, the goal is to actually build your resume such that it tells a story. Here are some great ways to do it:

  • Participate in a student research fair
  • Assist a professor in doing their research
  • Get involved with the club in your degree or even any club….become an officer in the club
  • Help with a project for a community organization
  • Play intramural or varsity sports
  • Become part of student government
  • Get on a faculty or staff run committee representing students
  • Seek out the school’s business/technology incubator and volunteer to help

If you do these consistently over 4 years you will definitely build an impressive resume for an employer.

Wasn’t motivated in high school?

Ok, if your child was in clubs or sports in high school it may not be too heavy of a lift to get them involved in college.

However, what if they have made permanent indentations on your couch for the past 4 years of high school and you are worried they won’t get involved?

This is how it works….

When my oldest daughter was studying for her college degree I kept telling her to make sure she approached one of the professors in her degree program to do research with them to the point of “Dad….stop telling me to do that!!!”

At that point, I stopped. Then one evening she came home to tell me this one professor and her spoke and thought it would be a good idea if she did research with her. Umm…”that is a great idea” I said back to her.

Pinball – Your New Role Pinball MachinesWhen you college aged student goes to school, you will be playing a new role. I like to think of it as a pinball machine. If you do not know what a pinball machine is, then I would ask you to do a Google or Bing search and find out.

The goal of the game is to keep a shiney silver ball in play as long as you can by tapping it with flippers everytime it gets close to going down a hole.

A student’s day is filled with all sorts of chance encounters. Some of those encounters will be with other teachers, other students, and other professionals. They will be completely surrounded by people who clearly understand why they are there.

They will hear all sorts of comments and opinions. Most importantly, the good professors seek out these conversations in and out of class. So even though you think YOU are the only one saying to “get involved” or “do your homework”, you are not.

So when my daughter returned that day to make that announcement after me having suggesting it until she shut me down, I simply smiled and said “that sounds awesome!”.  🙂

The Cost of Higher Education

While I was (in college) I was exposed to this world that I didn't know was possible.

College is expensive. It will not be getting less expensive anytime soon.

What I do in my freshman class….

When I ask my college freshman what was the most expensive thing they purchased during the summer leading up to their freshman year I always get one student telling me they purchased a car.

It is obviously an expensive item so I play coy with them and then ask did you just walk in and buy it?

“Noooo! I looked up the facts on the car, test drove it, basically shopped around to find one I liked.”

It is at that point I lay this question down:
“So how much does this class cost?”
Answer: {silence}
“Ok….do you know the name of this course?”
Answer: {silence}
“Alright…this one is tough….what is my name (even though I already introduced myself to them and sent them a series of emails before class started)?”
Answer: “Mr Fred??”
Whew….{sigh of some relief}

But that is my point.

I see very few students fully engage this process that is undoubtedly going to create a great amount of debt for them. To lower that debt to earning ratio upon graduation, they have control over one thing and one thing only….their GPA.

I know the general perception is “oh…that professor gives out the grades”. Maybe there are some that do not take their role as a mentor-teacher as serious as others. The reality is the student chooses how much time and effort they will spend on getting the work done and if they get involved.

Here is the truth….when you connect with your school, other students, or faculty and staff, you create a support network. That network will become very important when the classes become challenging. Believe me….they will become challenging.

I have seen it work first hand. Students that get involved with school related activities increase their chance of success as they move through their first year and head towards graduation.

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The Sandbox Experience

GetMeCoding SandboxI would love to speak to anyone about what I have learned as someone who is part of the higher education experience.

If you were ask me what I would do differently if I could go back I would simply say “more….much much more”.

College is a giant expensive sandbox.  If you fall down, you won’t get hurt.  Someone will pick you up, brush you off and tell you to try again….and again. 

It the minor league for those of us not talented enough athletically to pursue a professional sports career.  If you invest the same amount of energy and determination these collegiate athletes do in their sports as you would in your academics, there is a company out there who wants you.   

Remember….businesses want rockstars….not rocks.  They are under no obligation whatsoever to feel bad for you and hire you.

So think pinball.

Let go.

Ultimately, in my last quote from my favorite movie of all time is for you the reader……

You must do what you feel is right, of course.

Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars A New Hope - Episode IV Tweet

I wish you all the best in this next chapter of your lives, Mr Fred




– Mr. Fred

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