Parents whose children are leaving for college next month may be pondering words to impart to their children. Matriculating and residing on a campus far from home brings new challenges for students, and many parents would like to equip their children with words to help them navigate the tough academic and social terrain that college campuses offer.

Given that more than half of African-American students leave college before graduating, what advice will help students endure and enjoy college life?


Although you may get annoyed at your child’s constant need to be first in line, first to speak, and ride shotgun in the family car, his ability to advocate for himself will pay off in college. Think about it: In a lecture hall of 100-plus students, those who do not understand the material will fall behind if they don’t have the self-confidence and motivation to speak up for themselves ¡ª seeking help from the professor, teaching assistant, or tutor within the department. Students who are not used to speaking on their own behalf often shy away from seeking help, but those who are self-advocates view such challenges as opportunities to shine.

Maintain healthy connections with home

College campuses typically offer environments different from the neighborhoods children come from. Whether it be the amount of greenery or the complexity of demographics, students will come to find that their campus may not mirror the setting in which they were raised. While leaving a highly parent-controlled and/or high-crime area may be welcomed by some students, separation still creates disconnection from family and friends ¡ª what children associate with comfort. Having students maintain healthy connections with home may help mitigate the discomfort that we call homesickness.

Students with family members or positive friends from their community who phone, visit, or Skype with them can be a comfort and support. Remind your children to focus on family members or friends who are supportive of their educational aspirations. Relationships with relatives or friends who discourage achievement or criticize your child’s choice to leave the community may only exacerbate frustration with the new environment, causing him or her to want to leave early.¡¡

Utilize resources

College campuses typically offer services to help first-generation college students. Student affairs buildings on campuses supply students with academic and financial resources that contribute to students’ college success. Academic advising is available to students, and short-term mental health counseling is also offered and included in many of your children’s tuition packages. In combination with formal help, college campuses like the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University have multicultural student centers where students can go to socialize with other African-American and/or Latino students and hang out at a place that provides a sense of community, a resource greatly appreciated on college campuses that overlook the experiences of non-majority cultures. Such resources can help make college more enjoyable and increase their chances of staying.

Manage time

If you don’t already know, make some general observations this summer to see how your child balances school and chores, school and work, school and studying. If their management of these things is an issue now, it may become an even greater issue in college. Besides attending classes, students must also manage eating, sleeping, exercising, studying, socializing, volunteering, participating in student organizations, and/or working without the help of their parents.

Without the ability to balance all of the above activities, students often become overwhelmed and deem college unmanageable. Resources such as an alarm clock, calendar, day planner, binders, and/or smart phone can help students better manage their time. If extra assistance is needed, have your child visit the Study Guides and Strategies website ( and use the Developing a Schedule tool to figure out how they are already managing their time and get helpful tips on how to manage time at college.

Assimilating into college life is not an easy task, but it is often less difficult with preparation and knowledge. So this summer, pass on words of wisdom to your child to help them navigate ¡ª and graduate ¡ª college.