Bookmark and Share

Parent Discussions

Talking to Your Child about the Transition to College

“In a recent study done at Ohio University freshmen were asked if they felt prepared for the transition to college (aside from the on-campus orientation).  A sizable number of respondents admitted that they had done very little to prepare.  Most wished they had done more to prepare for the rigor, the lifestyle, and the personal freedom of college life.”

Going to college is one of life's major turning points.  It not only changes a student's life but it appreciably alters the lives of parents.  As your child plans for college, it is a wonderful time to sit down and have some important heart-to-heart conversations.  Keep in mind that these are NOT discussions (or nagging) about college application tasks or details; rather these are conversations about how things are going to change as your child transitions into college.

By casually asking your children some informal questions you can help them deepen their college thinking and better prepare them for the changes ahead.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the conversations may help strengthen child/parent connections.

Below are some "starter" questions that might jump start productive conversations.  The questions are divided into four broad categories: Reflection, Social/Family, Personal Attributes, and Campus Life.  Each catergory includes Points of Connection and corresponding prompts and suggested activities.  No doubt you will want to shape each question/topic to fit your child, circumstances, and personal interests.

College Grazing's self-discovery surveys are an indispensible way to open the door for productive conversations about college planning and selection.

Points of Connection

Conversation Questions/Topics
for your Child

Suggested Activity


Your Dreams

What do you want to do with your life?

Picture what life will be like for you in ten years.

What are your interests and passions?

Have your child discuss or write out his/her ideal future.  In other words, have him/her “paint” the best case scenario for his/her future self.

The Search

How do you feel you are changing?

What things have become very important to you?

What new ideas are you currently exploring?

Are you developing any new interests in the arts?

In the time you have between now and leaving for college, try to attend as many cultural/learning activities as you can.  Make a point to discuss each one together.

Setting Goals

Why do you want to go to college?

How will college shape your future?

How will college benefit you?

Write a letter to your college bound child in which you express your hopes and dreams for him or her.

Academic Interests

What school subjects interest you the most?

What do you want to study in college and why?

Talk to your teachers and ask them to discuss why they selected their field (major).  Have them identify pluses and minuses.  Go to the websites of colleges that interest you and review the majors they offer.

College Choice

Describe your ideal college

Have your child complete a “college Choice” list.” For each college on the list indicate its level of desirability, its cost, and its strengths and limitations.

Social/Family Concerns

Parent/Child Relationships

Discuss: When you go to college our relationship will undoubtedly change.

Have your child define aloud how an adult/child relationship differs from an adult/adult relationship.

Parent Expectations

Discuss: When you are away at college we have certain expectations of you

Discuss the importance of regular communication.

Both parents and child should write out a communication commitment.  This indicates how you will stay connected.  You may even want to write an informal “connection” contract.

Parent Feelings

Discuss: As a parent I have mixed feelings about you leaving the household

When you go off to college, this is how my life will change

Parents, put together a set of pictures that reflect the times that you feel have defined your sense of family.  Give it to your child and discuss how the pictures make you feel. 


What do you want to do for a living and how does that influence your college planning?

Do the career exercises found at  Discuss the results together.

Personal Attributes

People Skills

Do you get along with people well?

How do you approach resolving issues with others?

Role Playing: A parent should play the role of a disagreeable roommate who is sloppy.  Your child should model how he/she would confront this situation. 


Do you make friends easily?

Are you worried about making new friends?

Is there a certain type of person you are drawn to?

What are the “dangers” of making the wrong kind of friends?

Define “The Wrong Kind of Friends”

How do you feel about leaving your current friends? (And the family pet)

Have our child make two lists: one of behaviors he/she wants in a friend and another list of college behaviors to avoid.

Identify together some strategies for making new friends at college.


Do you feel you take good care of yourself (exercise, eating, sleep, etc.)?

Do you feel that you handle stress well?  What do you do to manage your stress?  What do you do to relax?

Have your child read what teens are doing to establish good wellness habits at Inspire Wellness--  Then write a “Wellness Promise” in which you identify a wellness regimen for yourself.  Both child and parents should sign off on this “contract.”

Time Management

Do you manage time well?

Are you good at organizing things you have to do?

Do you get frustrated with all the things you have to do?

Have your child construct a college application “game plan.”  Remember it is the child’s responsibility to meet deadlines, gather information, complete application requirements, and schedule visits.  It is helpful to buy an inexpensive calendar to be dedicated to college planning.  Go over the calendar together.


Do you understand the responsibility of debt?

Do you handle money well: budgeting, checking, and credit cards?

Do you understand the danger of credit cards?

Together, take the Financial Literacy Quiz for teens at 

Then discuss the results.

Campus Life

Living Conditions

Have you thought about how your living conditions will change when you attend college?

How will life be different when you are no longer living at home

Ask your child to interview several friends who are currently in college and ask them to explain what they have done about the following: privacy, entertainment, eating, religious habits, friends, and spending money.

Read a “college survival” book together.

Campus Life: Roommates

What challenges must you confront living with a roommate?

What are some do’s and don’ts connected with roommate living?

Define roommate “ground rules.”

Select three current classmates (not close friends).  Imagine that they are your dorm roommates.  Make a list of personal attributes that might “drive you crazy.”  Then consider the habits that you have that might drive a roommate crazy. 

Independent Living

How will living on campus be different from how you live now?

What practical things do you think you should learn how to do well before you go to college?

Give your child a primer on independent living.  This should include a “how to” with things like the washer and dryer, oven, basic cooking techniques, clothing care, finances (including managing a checkbook and credit/debit cards), etc.  


Define personal freedom

What does it mean to be accountable?

A large number of college students say they were surprised by the degree of personal freedom in college.  Make a list of potential positives and potential hazards of personal freedom in college.