- Plan a time to visit the campus and talk to students and faculty with your student. When parents share in the first impression of a school environment, it creates a sense of security and connection with the school. If each member of the family is involved in the college decision, you'll all feel more a part of the actual college experience.
- Set up a weekly or biweekly time to talk on the phone or plan a date when you'll visit. That way, everyone will have a specific time or date to look forward to. But don't forget that students get busy, sometimes forget, or don't always have that much to say. Don't take those missed phone dates or unanswered e-mails personally. Hey, you may need a little "grace" now and then, too!
- Support them, and yourself, with prayer. Identify other parents in your church or community who also face their child's absence from home. What a great opportunity to reconnect with parents of your child's friends apart from the context of being "your child's parents." Set aside time each week to meet, discuss issues the students may be facing, offer advice on parenting from afar, and lift up any praises/prayers/concerns you may have. Also, ask your student if she/he has anything specific that the group may pray for.
- Invest in your student's intellectual interests. As they prepare to leave, take them to a bookstore to select a book on their upcoming area of study. Be aware of magazine articles, newspaper clippings or TV programs that feature their interests. If your teen wants to be a veterinarian, for example, ask your local vet for resources your student might enjoy. If you have friends that work in the profession your child would like to enter, ask them to speak with your child. When your student knows you care about more than just grades, they're more likely to focus on the learning process rather than the resulting GPA. You may learn a little something too!
- Remember details of their lives. As they tell you about new friends, jot down a few things about each one so you can demonstrate your interest in the progression of these friendships over the year.
- Help them keep family traditions alive. Send holiday kits complete with carving patterns for jack-o'-lanterns, cookie-baking supplies for Christmas, or construction paper and glittery markers to make Valentine cards. Not only will they be reminded of good times at home, but you'll find comfort in knowing they're carrying on those traditions with their new "family" of friends at school.
- Surprise them with little gifts. Send a postcard from your hometown, a subscription to a favorite magazine, or an e-card "just because." And don't forget: College kids always love homemade cookies!
Jeremy Wallace, an admissions counselor for Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, provided ideas for developing these tips.