Check In Time


The first semester of the new college school year is in the books. Finals are over, grades will be posted and for many students, they will learn how their transition to college life is progressing. It’s time for the Christmas break!

Christmas is a wonderful time. A time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the holiday spirit. For new college freshman, the break is an important time to relax, refuel and re-energize. But for as many this first major break is a time to question their college path and whether they will be successful.

For parents, the Christmas break is their first time to be with their student for any extended amount of time since move-in day. So many questions to explore regarding a student’s new college experience. College academics, study demands, roommates and social life are just a few of the pressing thoughts a parent has about their new college freshman.


Students returning home during this extended break bring a variety of emotions and excitement with them. Minds are full of accomplishments, good time, names of new friends and thoughts about next semester. But for up wards to 20% of new college freshman (and some 2nd year students) struggle is the general stream of thought. Challenging courses, issues with fitting in, food selection and other concerns make this break to be a hard time. Understanding how to approach the conversation with their parents and friends is a troubling stage in their lives.

Parents too are excited to see their student. They arrive on campus ready for the drive home and find a month’s worth of laundry and an exhausted human being.  Thoughts of talking about classes, professors, clubs and social activities turns to a mode changing ride home. Attempts to recover information are greeted by a traveling partner who sleeps most of the way.

Parents instead need to restrain the impulse to press for details and turn on their good listening skills. It is best to observe, listen and watch the non-verbal messages to determine if in fact there might be concerns. Clearly, the natural instinct during the initial gathering period and during the early part of the Christmas break is to probe for information and details on how the first semester is going. Resist the temptation, listen, take mental notes and watch for behavioral changes. In doing so for those students who want to talk but are not ready a positive, welcoming climate will allow for an open conversation. Students who are struggling want to talk, they just do not know how and when!

Back Home

You will find that once a student has had a chance to recharge their battery with food and sleep and a few phone calls to catch up with their close high school friends the signal will flash that it is time for the conversation. How you begin will be key to the outcome. Ask open ended questions, not those that allow for a yes or no answer.

  • Want new professor or class are you finding interesting?
  • Tell me about new classmate that you have meet?
  • How is the food in the dining hall? How does it compare to my cooking?
  • What interesting club have you checked out?
  • What course gave you the hardest time?

Based on the reaction and responses to a few “softball” questions you should have the line on whether or not you {can and need} to dig deeper. If the combination of your observation and/or minor questions/conversation lead you to believe there might be some more serious concern, then and only then do you dig in deeper. If it appears that it may require more time to uncover whether there might be a concern, it will be important to have a plan to continue the conversation once the student returns to campus. Ultimately, the message to communicate to a student is that if there is a concern, you as their parent are there to provide 100% support.

Returning to Campus

Students returning to campus will be bring back their clean laundry, snacks and forgotten items from when they initially moved in. It is also important for students to understand as they return to their campus they have resources to empower then to overcome obstacles that might be holding them back or interrupting the launch of their college experience. Resources include:

  • Visiting the academic and/or writing center to overcome a drop-in grades
  • Conversation with the Resident Hall staff if a new roommate is needed
  • Meeting with the Dining Hall Manager to discuss dietary needs
  • Visit to the office for Clubs and Organizations to investigate one to join

Parents, it is also important that you establish a good plan for communication you’re your student. Remaining in touch, keep up periodic check in conversations is essential. The support a student feels as they return must continue as they return. Be a good listener and continue to watch for behavioral changes.

A student’s return to campus should be an exciting and fun. Stay connected and experience it together.