Winter Break Touch Base: Key Topics to Discuss with Your Student

With final exams finished, many students return home for winter break. This can be a great time to take advantage of talking with your student in-person, rather than over text. Below we’ve outlined conversation starters for key topics.

A view of the Abraham Lincoln statue, snow-covered, on top of Bascom Hill.
Winter break is an important time to catch up with your student and start important conversations. (Photo: Bryce Richter/UW–Madison)

Keep in mind, for many students, winter break is an opportunity to catch up on sleep and reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in months. Not all students will be ready to have these conversations the moment they walk through the door. Give your student time to settle in and relax, and know that there is plenty of time to connect.


Over the break, students will begin to receive their final course grades and may experience joy, disappointment, or relief. Some students are just beginning to explore their major, while others are focused on life after graduation. No matter where your student is in the process, here are ways to get the conversation started:

  • Other than friends, who have you connected with on campus? Tell me about the faculty or staff members you’ve met through classes or student organizations.
  • What are your academic goals?
  • Have you taken advantage of any free tutoring resources?
  • How do you communicate with your instructors? Have you attended office hours?
  • Tell me about the classes you’re taking next semester.

Health and Safety

Now is a great time to continue conversations about alcohol and healthy relationships, in addition to your student’s physical and mental health. Ongoing conversations can help students make healthy and informed decisions. It’s important for parents and families to discuss expectations for behaviors, and potential risks and consequences associated with drinking.

Alcohol can be a factor when individual students don’t succeed and jeopardizes everyone’s ability to study and work in a safe, distraction-free environment. High-risk drinking affects the retention, engagement, and academic success of individual students, as well as the safety and well-being of their peers.

Check out University Health Services’ parent/family handbook Navigating College Culture for more information, conversation starters, and resources.

  • I know that first-year and transfer students were required to complete trainings on alcohol and violence prevention. What did you learn? Did anything surprise you?
  • How do you take care of yourself when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Do you utilize any of RecWell’s recreation facilities that are open to you? The student membership fee is included in tuition, so students only have to bring their valid Wiscard for access to their facilities.
  • Did you know University Health Services offers wellness services, in addition to mental health counseling?


Breaks are a good time to check in about finances and reassess. Some students will find that their budgets have not extended as far as they had hoped. Students may also be thinking about getting a campus job in the upcoming semester.

  • How’s your financial plan going? Did what you budgeted work out this past semester?
  • How much are you spending on “non-essential” expenses?
  • Have you checked out scholarship opportunities?
  • Let’s talk about how you’ll fund your expenses this upcoming semester.
  • Have you thought about getting a campus job?
  • Do you have questions about applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? The Office of Student Financial Aid can help with questions.

Out-of-Class Involvement

Much of a student’s learning happens outside of the classroom, and getting involved is a significant part of the college experience. Encourage your student to challenge themselves in new ways and take advantage of living in the vibrant city of Madison.

  • What was your favorite organization/activity you participated in this past semester?
  • How have you put yourself out of your comfort zone?
  • What do you like about living in Madison? Are there any challenges?
  • How do you plan to get involved next semester?
  • Are you planning to attend the spring student org fair? Check out more information on the upcoming fair, which will take place on February 11, 2020, here.

Next Steps

Breaks are also a time to think about and plan for the future. Help your student reflect on what’s next with these questions:

  • Have you visited your school or college’s career services office? It’s never too early to get started.
  • Have you thought about where you’re going to live next year? Don’t worry if not – Campus Area Housing recommends that many students wait to plan for next year’s housing until after winter break.
  • What do you hope to have achieved by the end of the school year?
  • What was the best part of your semester? What would you have changed?

Remember to express confidence in your student and let them know that you believe in them. We appreciate the incredible role you play as mentors and coaches for your students.