Category Archives: Parents

Advice for College Parents- Q&A with Director of Orientation

The following is the first in our upcoming series of interviews featuring various thought leaders on topics of interest to college parents. We are pleased to feature Kathryn Kay, the Director of Orientation and Assistant Director of Student Programs at Georgetown University. As noted in her bio below, Ms Kay has extensive experience working with both college students and parents. Her responses to our interview questions provide some great insights and useful tips for parents of college students. We would like to thank Ms. Kay for her time and thoughtful answers.

Kathryn Kay: Director of Orientation, Georgetown University

Suppose a parent does not feel their child’s transition to college is going well academically and/or socially, yet the student says everything is fine. Is there anything a parent should do, or should they avoid interfering?

If a student is not engaging in campus life or not doing as well academically as they used to, it may be due to other underlying issues like homesickness or stress. Rather than stating what you’re concerned about, it might help to first ask about the student’s perceptions of how the transition to college is going and acknowledging that it is a big transition (i.e. “So college must seem really different from high school. What have the major changes been?” or “It must feel strange to no longer have class 8 hours a day. Have you had to approach studying differently?”). Often students will then open up about how they feel about these changes, creating a great segue where you can suggest resources (i.e. “It sounds like it’s been hard to acclimate to campus without your high school friends. Have you reached out to that student group you liked during orientation? I remember that they were looking for new members, and it could be a great way to meet new people.” or “Do you remember when the Director from the Academic Resource Center talked at Orientation? She might be a good person to check in with about how to take better notes. Many people must struggle with that, otherwise there wouldn’t be an Academic Resource Center!”).

Related to the above, do you have any overall advice for a parent who wants to be supportive of their transitioning student, but also wants to avoid being a ‘helicopter parent’?

First of all, I want to note that I hate the term “helicopter parent”. You have done a great job parenting and helping your children get to this point in their life, and for that you should be applauded. During this big transition, I know you are going to want to be as supportive as possible, just as you have at all the other times your child changed life stages.

Although sending children off to college seems more daunting than watching them take their first steps or learn to ride a bike, the way you help them transition is the same. When you accompany them to Orientation and Move-In, it is similar to when you held their fingers to help them learn to walk or when you held the back of their bike seat when the training wheels were first taken off. But eventually, you let go. And when you let go, you have a flurry of mixed emotions. You are excited that they are about to be able to do something on your own and also worried that they are going to fall. But you let go anyway and take a step back. And when they take their first step, you applaud and yell in support. And when they fall, you give them encouraging words and comforting hugs…but you don’t go back to carrying them and you don’t put the training wheels back on, because you know that they are eventually going to find success without that.

So when your child goes off to college, there are going to be triumphs as well as bumps. And both your child and the University community will want you there to encourage them, congratulate them, and help pick them back up. But it is important that you support them to solve issues and not solve them yourself. If your student has a rough time with his/her roommate, remind them that there is a Resident Assistant (R.A.) to go to for help and do not call the R.A. or Residence Life yourself. Try not to worry too much about the bumps that come along. Those are the best opportunities for them to learn how to be successful adults. Instead, just as when they were learning to walk, empower your children to take the steps on their own as you cheer from the sidelines.

For a student transitioning from other institution, what advice would you give them to adapt as smoothly as possible to their new environment.

A lot of transfer students do not invest much in their new institution’s orientation program, because they already have had college experience. Although I know transfer students attend with different experiences from incoming freshmen, I would encourage them to use orientation to get to know their new campus, its resources, and some current students. Matriculating to a new institution will only made easier by starting with friendly faces and knowledge of what to expect.

Are there ways that parents can be helpful to orientation staff, to ensure that their child gets the most out of orientation?

Often parents are unprepared to be separated from their student during Orientation. While it is certainly a big transition for both incoming students and their families, we recognize it is a different change for students than it is for parents. Because of this, we want to provide specified support through Orientation programs and ask parents to not accompany their child through his or her orientation and to not take your child away from any of their scheduled programming. Also, Parent and Family programs have important information that we do not want you to miss, so please try and make it to everything scheduled for parents. Even if this is not your first child you are sending to college, information can change by institution or by year, and we want to make sure you have everything you need to support your student. You can also see this as an opportunity to meet other families or to serve as a resource to parents who are going through this for the first time.

Are there any non-academic skills that you have noticed that many new college students lack?

In my experience, the main skill that college students need to develop is knowing when to ask for support. I have watched students let something get out of hand rather than ask for help, either because they do not know about the appropriate resources or because they do not want to appear inept. On the other hand, I have also seen students immediately reach out to have someone help them without ever trying to solve the problem first. While we do want students to develop their autonomy, we also want them to successfully function interdependently and rely on others for support.

If you notice your child struggling and it is not an emergency or health-related situation, rather than solve the problem yourself or calling the appropriate campus resources for him/her, I suggest that you ask questions that will help him/her get to a solution or that you name the campus resources available and suggest that he/she reach out to them. That way you are empowering them to own the situation, while also acting as a safety net.

Kathryn Kay Bio:
Kathryn Kay currently serves as the Director of Orientation, Assistant Director of Student Programs, and Co-Coordinator of R. U. Ready at Georgetown University. After working at Accenture as a business consultant, specializing in Change Management for the Financial Services sector, she earned her Master of Education in College Student Affairs Administration at the University of Georgia. Since then, Kathryn has supported student activities and orientation programs at Georgia Tech, UGA, Kennesaw State University, and Georgetown University. Kathryn’s professional interests include orientation and transition programs, sexual assault education, and diversity education. She also currently sits on the Board of Directors as a Regional Coordinator for the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA).

What College Parents Should Do to Keep their Student in School.

About a third of college freshmen won’t make it back for their sophomore year. There are many reasons for this including: money issues, academic problems, family issues, loneliness, etc. Unfortunately college retention rates have been trending lower over the past 20 years.

College staff and administrators pay a great deal of attention to this issue. However, what should college parents do to ensure that their student remains in college and eventually gets their degree?

In future posts, we will address this issue, and include some suggestions that we are gathering from college staff, successful college students, college parents, and college retention experts.

Oh Dear, I’m a Newbie

By Talia Goren

This article written for by Talia Goren was previously featured on our site a few years back. Talia discusses the many new encounters that all new college students go through, such as new surroundings, new people, professors, etc. She gives great suggestions on specific steps students can take to make the transition less stressful. Her tips are also useful suggestions for parents helping their children adapt to college life and the student’s college transition.

Many students have minor coronaries at the thought of the process you go through when entering or starting something as new and scary as college. The idea of making friends and the amount of course load and the horror of a scary professor seem, especially to those not blessed at birth with the social butterfly gene, like an impossible feat to overcome.

So what, then, is the best way to be the most comfortable and happy in this new environment? How do you get used to new surroundings, new people, new classes, new teachers, and all the other “news” associated with going off to school?

There are a few steps to take to achieve this goal.

First of all, make a priority list. Why did you enter this school in the first place? What led you to choose it? Was it the size? Maybe it was the majors? Perhaps even the location! Either way, write down your reasons for wanting to be there and what things you really loved about it. This will help you remember positive things when you are feeling down in the dumps.

Then, explore! This means finding out about different aspects of the school. They always give you a few days before classes start so use them! Look around, get a campus map and familiarize yourself with your environment. You can do it alone, or even with a buddy, maybe your roommate or someone you met at orientation. Get to know the different areas of campus and the best ways to get from one place to another. Take advantage of maps and offices with staff members in them. Ask lots of questions, someone is bound to know the answer.

The next thing to do is find out about clubs. Usually there is some kind of club expo where all of the groups, clubs, teams, sororities and fraternities are displayed. Ask questions, get involved, and find something that interests you. There is bound to be something!

In terms of all of the new people, keep in mind just that; they are all new! Hundreds if not thousands of freshman are entering schools every August and September and they are all just as frightened as you are! The most important thing to do if you are not as comfortable<> being social is to always smile. People feel more comfortable around people who smile, and you are more likely to be approached by someone who is more comfortable talking to strangers if you look as though you are willing to be approached. Also, not all upper classmen are evil, so please don’t be scared of them. Oftentimes, they will be your best asset because they’ve been at the school for awhile.

The idea of the “scary professor” whose aim is to give you as much work as humanly possible and perhaps take you to his dungeon where he has a torture chamber is-mostly- inaccurate. Just like in high school, there will be teachers you like and teachers you dislike. While many schools place you in classes without you really choosing them yourself (at least your first semester), most schools allow you to choose your own classes and your own professors. Take advantage of websites that rate professors because they are generally pretty accurate. Also, feel free to use other students for information. Again, upperclassmen have been there, and done that! While they may not have the same taste as you, they can usually tell you what kind of teaching style the professor has and you can decide whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

The most important thing to learn about college is that no matter how big or small, you have the power to change anything. If you are uncomfortable with a roommate, you can request to switch. If you decide your major is not the right fit for you, you can also change that. If a class is proving not to be what you thought it was or you do not get along with a teacher, there is always an add/drop period where you can switch into another class. Don’t be afraid to make a decision and have an opinion, because in the end you and your parents are paying for an education and for you to be happy and comfortable and learn a lot!

The Parents’ Guide to a Worry-Free Semester

By Caitlin Fahey for

The transition from high school to college is difficult. For the parents. For those of you who are sending your children to college for the first time, I’m sure you’re a nervous wreck. But a college education is what every parent wants for their children today, isn’t it? I survived my freshman year (and so did my parents). I went on to mentor freshmen for two years, and am currently a graduate assistant, teaching two sections of freshman English. I can assure you, you don’t have to worry as much as you think you do.

Many of you probably worry about the fact that your son or daughter is alone in an unfamiliar place. How safe is their campus, you might ask yourself. In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, you aren’t the only anxiety-ridden person. Schools all over the country are stepping up the security measures. At my alma mater, there are emergency phones so evenly distributed throughout the campus that an orientation leader boasted, “There isn’t one place on campus that you can stand without at least one blue light in view.” The blue lights on the phones signal a place where one push of a large “help” button immediately calls 911. Since Virginia Tech, many schools have also implemented an emergency text message service, so that in the case of a campus-wide emergency, students may be alerted anywhere.

I bet I can guess your next worry: alcohol, right? Universities today are not only associated with higher education, but with keg parties and binge drinking. However, I’m sorry to say that it’s not your place to lecture. But rest assured: universities don’t like the “party school” label anymore than you like imagining Johnny too hung-over to make it to Chemistry. Since my college days, I’ve also seen dorm security tighten up, and many campuses assign freshmen and sophomores to “dry” residences, where no alcohol is permitted. Likewise, for two years I was a mentor for a “First Year Experience” class, a one-credit course designed to help freshmen adjust. We had a unit on drug and alcohol abuse and educated the class about everything from legal repercussions to the signs of alcohol poisoning. If you can’t stop a college student from drinking, you can help them drink responsibly.

No matter what I say, I’m sure you still have doubts in the back of your mind. What if something does happen? Chances are, your child’s school has an abundance of resources. I teach freshmen English to a relatively small class. Because of the intimate classroom setting, the students tend to open up to their English teachers. I’ve had students come to office hours to talk about boy troubles, or use in-class writing to rant about how they think they are failing chemistry. I have a number of referrals I can make in these situations. Mental Health Services offer confidential counseling for students fighting depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. There is an Advocacy Center that also offers counseling and advice for extenuating circumstances, and study resources such as the Writing Center and tutoring services. Besides, there are so many recreational facilities and student activities on campus, that there’s a good chance your child will get over their homesickness and be in good spirits all semester.

For the parents, college brings a lot to worry about. Are they eating? Are they safe? Are they doing well in school? College is just as much a transition for the student as it is the parent. The bright side is that the four years of university will fly by. Suddenly, you’ll realize that the child you left in a strange dorm four years ago has become a young adult.

This article was originally written for by Caitlin Fahey a few years back, when Caitlin was pursuing a Master’s degree in English while teaching two sections of First Year Composition, a college writing course for college freshman students. As an undergrad, she similarly served as a freshman year mentor in a First Year Experience program. In addition to teaching, Caitlin’s interests include writing, theater, and film. As an experienced college student, she has some useful insights for college parents regarding: College Drinking, Campus Security, College Health, and other typical worries of College Parents.