First Year: Home for the Summer

When your student comes home for the summer after the first year at college, life will be different from what it was before. Although that seems obvious, without giving it some prior thought, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise when your student seems to be following a script that is different from yours.

Living away from home for a school year is a life-changing event, and your student will be accustomed to independence, especially after spending the last year in a relatively unsupervised environment. This could be an area of conflict if you expect a phone call to let you know when your student will be home. Be sure to negotiate conflicts early to avoid tensions later on.

On the other hand, you may be anticipating newfound maturity and independence, and be disappointed to find the kitchen sink filled with dirty dishes, laundry left for you to do, and the gas tank on empty when you need the car. It can be daunting to realize that even though your student is now technically an adult, your role as a mentor and coach is still in play.

In the process of launching your student as an independent adult, you will need to continue reinventing just what that role is. You also may think you know your student’s interests and identity, but you could find that your student has made some major changes without discussing those changes with you. There may be some emotional and unexpected times during the summer, but mutual respect and listening can help you and your student stay connected with each other.

Here are a few tips for conversations you may want to have with your student to ensure a smooth transition for everyone.

  • Schedule time with your student to make sure activities that are important to you aren’t lost in the shuffle.
  • Have a conversation with your student about expectations for schedules, housework, and behavior during the summer. Decide whether the original rules of the house still apply, and also consider some extra flexibility to take into account your student’s new-found independence and autonomy.
  • Discuss summer plans—will your student return to a hometown job, start an internship, or volunteer?
  • Encourage your student to utilize summer as a time to reflect on future academic and career plans. While students are concentrating on midterms, papers, and other commitments during the academic year, they may have fewer distractions during break.

Summer also can be a particularly good time to assess how financial arrangements worked during your student’s first year, and to determine whether adjustments are needed for the future.

  • Start by asking: Was it difficult to get through the first year with the amount of money available? If so, why? What changes, if any, do we need to make for next year?
  • If financial problems did arise, talk with your student about taking on a part-time job. A commitment of working 10 to 15 hours per week not only provides extra income for your student, but also may be a valuable out-of-class experience. According to Justin Mumford, the assistant director of student employment at the Office of Student Financial Aid, the benefits of working on campus aren’t just financial. “Not only are students able to walk away from an on-campus job experience with tangible transferrable skills, which will ultimately allow for them to advance their preparedness for a future career, but also the critical component of involvement on campus,” said Mumford. “Through this involvement, there is an elevated support system for all aspects of student life at UW–Madison, which includes the potential to identify mentors as well as life-long friendships.”
  • If your student has already had a part-time job, did it affect grades? If so, was that due to working too many hours?

Lastly, the Office of Student Financial Aid can be an excellent resource for students and families.