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~Learning to Let Go When A Child Leaves for College~

For immediate release:
August 4, 2003

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. --When millions of teenagers leave home for college this fall, will it be harder for them -- or for the anxious parents they leave behind?

The first days of college can be an exciting yet anxious time for first-year students as well as for first-time college parents.

"Many parents experience mixed emotions regarding their child's departure for college," said Voncile White, dean of first-year students at Wellesley College. "The sense of exhilaration and pride that a parent feels at seeing a child become more independent can be coupled with a sense of loss and sadness that your child is moving on."

As she prepares to welcome her 14th class of first-year students and their parents to Wellesley, the dean offers the following advice for easing the transition:

  • Say good-bye before the last minute. "Once your child is on campus, she or he has already begun making that important separation from you," White said. "It may be too awkward and public for everyone to have that intimate moment in the presence of other classmates, families and a roommate. I suggest to parents that they spend some time earlier, perhaps the night before, having a quiet time together to celebrate their excitement and pride. Let your daughter or son know you will miss them."

  • Network with other parents. White suggests that parents make an effort to meet parents of roommates and classmates. "They provide a valuable support group of people having the same experiences," she said. "If you live far away, find out if there are others in your area who attend the same or a nearby college or university. This information comes in handy at vacation and travel time. If you live nearby, respect your child's privacy while she or he makes this important transition. But also invite friends and roommates for weekends and vacation. International students will benefit especially from this hospitality -- and so will you."

  • Resist the urge to decorate your child's new dorm room. "One of the best ways for roommates to learn about each other and to forge a good relationship is to work together on how their room is to be arranged," noted White. "Those who arrive later -- even by an hour or two -- are immediately at a disadvantage if one or more roommates have already established 'territory.' Many colleges provide roommates' addresses and telephone numbers during the summer. New roommates might discuss room arrangements before they arrive on campus."

  • Once student orientation has begun, take your leave. "Our experience is that students make a better adjustment to college if they participate fully in orientation events. It's a burden for students to have their parents still present after these scheduled programs begin," White said. "At Wellesley, we host a President's Welcome Dinner for incoming students and their families. When the dinner is over, we tell the parents, kindly but firmly, that it's time for them to leave. Having a set time for families to depart makes it easier for everyone. We also schedule a mandatory meeting for all first-year students in the dormitory later that evening. In addition to providing a good start to the residential experience, it requires the students to separate from their families."

  • Talk about credit cards and finances before school begins. "I encourage parents to have a frank discussion about finances before the student leaves home," White said. "Will the student have a credit card? Should a parent be a co-signer and get copies of the statements? Banks bombard college students with credit-card offers. They start off with low spending limits but raise them rapidly as cards are used. As a result, students can get over their heads in debt and even ruin their credit ratings before they graduate."

  • Be interested, not critical, of the classes they are taking. Most colleges and universities have course selection and degree requirements that need to be addressed during the student's first year. "Generally, faculty or deans give advice on selecting these courses," White said. "I advise parents to express interest in, rather than criticism of, their sons' and daughters' choices."

On Aug. 25, White will welcome nearly 600 members of the Class of 2007 to Wellesley, a liberal-arts college that has been a leader in the education of women for more than 125 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to a total of 2,300 undergraduate students. Among Wellesley's distinguished alumnae are Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and broadcast journalists Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Lynn Sherr and Linda Wertheimer.


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