Roots and Wings: Advice for New College Students and Their Parents

For immediate release:
July 13, 2006
Mary Ann Hill

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- When thousands of teenagers leave home for college this fall, will it be harder on them—or on the parents they leave behind? The first days of college are an exciting yet anxious time for first-year students and first-time college parents.

“Sending a child off to college can feel overwhelming to a parent, particularly if the school is far from home or when this is the first child heading to school,” said Lori Tenser, dean of first-year students at Wellesley College. “Just as students are adjusting to a new stage in their lives, so too do parents find that there is an adjustment period when their daughters and sons leave to begin their college careers.”

To help with the transition, the team in Tenser’s office has produced a new 20-page Parents’ Guide on the ins and outs of life as a parent of a Wellesley student. The booklet offers information on everything that parents need to know about Wellesley, including a list of online and printed resources. Having a resource for all their questions will quell much parental anxiety and establish some boundaries for parental involvement.

When summer ends, parents will bring children to college for the first time – and then go home alone. To ease that process, Tenser hopes families will take advantage of programs and technologies that help. Most colleges and universities offer parents their own set of orientation events, and web access to considerable information about what’s happening on campus. However, parents should realize that the level of involvement they may have had during the high school years may need to change.

“One of my favorite adages comes from a hand-stitched sampler hanging on the wall in a New England country inn,” said Tenser. “It reads, ‘There are two gifts parents must give their children. One is roots, the other is wings.’” Parents must begin to let their daughters and sons make their own choices and, yes, their own mistakes, according to Tenser.

Many students do face a new level of freedom and responsibility when they leave home to attend college for the first time. To ease their transition to college, Tenser advises students to start making social connections this summer on a college’s online social network, such as the new password-protected MyWellesley.

“While personal portals such as and are popular ways to form social networks, they can become problematic if students share too much personal information with the greater world,” Tenser said. “The college version is designed to connect incoming students to each other and to the college, using a combination of functions such as e-mail, chats and discussions, along with access to articles on featured topics and links to important information.”

These student-only networks boast built-in privacy—and can launch new friendships even before students take their first steps on campus.

"MyWellesley offers our students a safe space for having these interactions and for establishing new relationships they will sustain as they enter their college years,” Tenser said.

Advice for students, from students

Wellesley presents a week of student orientation at the end of August in which students are assigned a First-Year Mentor (FYM), an older student who helps them build a new life on campus. When one new FYM posed the recent online question, “What Should First Years Know?,” upperclass students responded with insider tips for making the home-to-college transition:

• Most important, veteran students recommend embracing new opportunities.

“Take a class or join an activity about something that sounds interesting that you have never tried or that you don’t think you are particularly talented at,” one student said. “You might surprise yourself—and that is what the college is for.”

• Follow the “Roommate Starter Kit,” online at which helps roommates get to know each other, establish ground rules and open lines of communication. Conversation starters include “My friends would describe me as someone who…” and “This is how I feel about my possessions, if you’d like to borrow or use them.” Wellesley’s kit is online at

• Take advantage of free tutoring and skill-building workshops through academic departments and the tutoring center. Get to know professors early in the semester. Go to faculty office hours with questions and concerns.

• Learn the locations of computer labs and public computers in dormitories, classrooms and libraries, even if you bring your own laptop. Computers may crash at the worst possible moment. And back up your work on a disk.

• Find out where the nearest drug store, grocery store, post office and public transportation is located. Check out local libraries and nearby malls. If your college has a shuttle bus, take a trial run to see where it goes.

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For more information, go to