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How to Help Your Live-In College Student Prepare for an Independent Life

If your teen is living at home during college, it doesn't mean they shouldn't start living a more independent life. Here's what parents can do to help.

As your student makes the transition from high school to college, they are entering a very different world—a world of freedom but also responsibility. For parents whose students choose to live at home while attending college, it’s hard to come to the realization that their student is taking a huge step toward adulthood when it seems like nothing has changed. This transition period offers its own set of challenges for parents, students, and families alike. First, we must ask the question…

Is your student prepared for college?

I’m talking about the “real” college prep: adulthood. As parents and guardians, we must prepare our teenagers for independent living. That means they need to know how to self-advocate, how to say “no” to behaviors with negative consequences, and how to be responsible with their time and money. In today’s ever-changing world, we all need the ability to make wise social and economic choices. Even though your student will be living at home while attending college, do they know how to budget? Do they understand the importance of class attendance and studying? Do they know how to choose the right friends? Will they make wise choices about alcohol, sex, and other risky behaviors? Preparing them for college is so much more than academics and getting yourself up in the morning.

Related: How to Know If You're Ready for College

Preparing your student for independence

For many parents, the most difficult aspect of the college change is letting go. You have been responsible for your student’s every need for years: food, clothing, education, and guidance. The goal for every parent is to move their child toward independence, and college is often the next step. To have a smooth transition while they’re still under your roof, follow these simple guidelines.

Set some ground rules

Before your teen starts college, set some ground rules about what you expect from them academically and financially. Discuss any concerns you might have regarding house rules that will be different now that they’re a college student living at home. You’ll have to come up with some agreeable rules that allow them to have more independence and still respect you as a parent. This includes deciding if they’re required to pay rent and/or hold down a job.

Give your student space to be an adult

It’s essential to give your live-in student some space to exert their independence and learn some life lessons—aka the space to be an adult. Don’t be one of those parents who stalks their college student with constant texts, unending phone calls, and apps that provide 24/7 location monitoring. Even though they’re living at home, you need to give them some freedom to live their new college life and make adult choices.

But listen carefully and be available

When your student is at home and comes to you, be present and listen carefully to what they’re saying. There might be a tone in their voice you pick up on or a few words you take note of that will let you know they’re struggling. Often, they’ll just need someone to vent to and receive comfort from—not for you to jump to the rescue. Help guide them to figure out the root of what’s wrong on their own and what would help resolve the problem.

Start teaching financial skills

With this transition, there will be many financial decisions your student needs to make, beginning with how much college debt they’re willing to incur. Find a loan repayment calculator to determine payments after graduation and use these figures to make wise choices about borrowing money for school. They’ll also need to know how to budget their money and make smart spending decisions. Many students graduate from college with over $10,000 in credit card debt. That’s why it’s important to discuss credit card rates and how easy it is to fall into debt, even with simple purchases such as coffee or fast food.

Related: 5 Basic Financial Strategies You Should Learn About Before College

Stress the importance of academics

College is not like high school; professors expect students to do their assignments, and they don’t check up on them if they don’t. Going to college with refined study and organizational skills—and a commitment to their education—will help your student adjust to the rigorous course requirements of a college degree program. Learning how to properly manage their time is also important, as it relates to class assignments, studying for tests, and preparing term papers.

But remind them to find a good balance

Recognize that while they shouldn’t forget the main reason they’re attending college—to get an education—making friends and enjoying the social scene are also necessary for any student’s overall satisfaction with the college experience. This is especially true for students living off campus, many of whom experience feelings of isolation from the campus community. Discuss ways they can balance their social life with their academic life before they start college, and encourage them to get involved, take advantage of campus resources, and attend in-person events if they can.

Talk about mental health

College life produces a whole new set of mental and emotional challenges. Your student should feel comfortable attending college with the skills needed to cope with the stress and the feelings of loneliness that often come with being a commuter student. Recognize that all these factors contribute to their overall mental health, and encourage them to self-advocate and ask for help if needed.

Encourage skill building

College is no different than life—obstacles will occur daily, and students need the skills to deal with those obstacles. Your teen will be confronted with conflict and should know how to resolve it, either by themselves or with a mediator (such as a student advisor). They’ll face situations that require them to advocate for themselves and others, and they should be comfortable doing this before they integrate into a college community. Even though they’re living at home, they should be prepared to solve their own problems and not seek your help at every turn.

Related: Our Best Advice on Building Important Skills as a Student

Transitioning from high school to college is hard for both students and their parents. It’s a new world of independence and discovery for each of you, and you should embrace it with excitement and anticipation. Give your commuter student space at home to explore their new life as a college undergrad while enjoying having them around just a little bit longer.

This isn’t where the college parenting advice ends! Check out Our Best Advice for Parents Helping Students Plan for College to master the process from start to finish.

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About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families about college preparation through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured online in the Huffington Post, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report Education, Smart College Visit, and more. She is also a freelance writer featured on CollegiateParent, UniversityParent, TeenLife Media, and Road2College. In the past, she has written for Zinch/Chegg, Classes & Careers, Winterline Study Abroad, and GalTime online magazine.

Suzanne's advice has also been featured on podcasts like Prepped and Polished, How to Pay for College HQ, The College Bound Chronicles, and The College Checklist. Her articles have been featured in print publications created by UniversityParent, CollegiateParent, and TeenLife Media as well as in the book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind by Nancy Berk.


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