reed magazine logonovember2005

A four-year college parenting calendar

Adapted from Marjorie Savage’s book, You’re on Your Own (but I’m here if you need me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years (Simon & Schuster Fireside, 2003).

Year One

The freshman year is all about change, self-discovery, and self-control.

Critical issues: Learning time management, setting limits, and developing study skills.

Parental role: Discuss expectations related to academics and social life, listen with empathy to frustrations or complaints about a problem, and encourage the student to find resources on campus or in the community to solve problems.

Year Two

Sophomores are more comfortable with college life, but all the excitement and challenge of the first year is gone. The dreaded sophomore slump hits mid-year and lingers through spring, but students are ripe for identifying their passion in life, and they still have time to change their major.

Critical issues: Academic complacency, personal and financial risk, and changing interests and goals.

Parental role: Encourage involvement in student organizations, suggest contacting a career adviser about internships and mentor programs, and engage in conversations about courses, campus projects, or instructors that are of particular interest to the student.

Year Three

The junior year can be the best. Students are in their major, taking classes that interest them. They know the campus, they have learned the routine, and they feel as though life is under control. They have friends everywhere they look. They may think, though, that they can spend money freely now, since they anticipate a job with a generous salary after graduation next year. Parents seem to worry least about juniors.

Critical issues: Intimate relationships, finances, and regrets about missed or wasted opportunities.

Parental role: Keep the student on track for career decisions, encourage career-related internships or jobs, and talk about finances to ensure they don’t get out of hand.

Year Four

Seniors have their own niche in the school, and they may have made their mark and established a legacy by leading an organization, introducing a new student group, or effecting change. Just when things should be comfortable, though, they are sweating the next steps. Deadlines come quickly for graduate school exams and applications, and the weight of finding a job hangs over their heads.

Critical issues: Balancing priorities, racing against time, facing the unknown, and ruing the loss of daily contact with close friends.

Parental role: Understand the mixed feelings your senior is facing and don’t expect the job of his or her (or your) dreams before graduation. Recognize that some students are better positioned to job hunt during the summer, when they no longer face course deadlines, and that lawn care or wait-staff work might offer the flexibility and basic wages to support a more comprehensive search.

Marjorie Savage is parent program director at the University of Minnesota and author of You’re on Your Own (but I’m here if you need me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, (Simon & Schuster Fireside, 2003). She can be reached at