Leaving home and letting go

Transition tips for college freshmen and their parents
August 26, 2010

Newburgh -

All across America students are packing up and heading off to begin an exciting new chapter of life: freshman year.

And though mom and dad may be wiping their eyes, they need to let their students go.

“Even after 17 years of working in student affairs, I'm still moved by the anxiety, anticipation and excitement the freshmen and their families experience during this time of year,” said Deb Waller-Frederick, director of residence life at Mount Saint Mary College.

“When our freshmen move in at the end of August, we host multiple events that ease the transition including a reception with faculty and staff so parents can get to know the people who will be interacting with their students on a daily basis once they return home,” added Waller-Frederick.

Mount Saint Mary College will welcome its largest ever residence population to the scenic campus overlooking the Hudson River on August 28 and 29. Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, president, celebrates a mass just prior to the families’ departure from campus.

To help minimize transition jitters after the farewell, administrators and faculty members at Mount Saint Mary College offer the following suggestions.

Communication is key.

“Cell phones and text messaging are great for instant communicating although parents may not always get an immediate reply from their freshmen,” said Waller-Frederick.

“Since calling home for reassurance when things aren’t going well is typical, we try to encourage our students and their families to limit parental involvement in issues that could be handled by the student on their own. We recognize that parents worry, but when it comes to college, parents need to push their young adult to communicate directly with administrators at the college,” said Waller-Frederick.

Parents’ new role as coach.

During opening day, Mount staff, student athletes and upperclassmen are on hand to help as parents unload the last box. As they kiss their kids goodbye, mom and dad need to realize their role is shifting from a hands on daily caretaker to a coach from the sidelines.

“The concept of In Loco Parentis (In Place of the Parents) may not be in fashion at many colleges today but it’s still a concept that we try to remember at Mount Saint Mary College,” said Dr. Rae Fallon, associate professor of psychology. “Each student is assigned an academic advisor who helps in planning the course schedule and encouraging the student to become successful and independent.”

“Parents need to take a bit of a back seat and should direct their child to the appropriate available resources on campus such as talking to their RA (resident assistant), seeking a tutor or visiting the counseling center. Even the most adaptable student can sometimes feel overwhelmed by a relatively simple question. When the parent points their son or daughter toward the person or office on campus that can help, it’s a major step in their continuing development and maturity,” said Fallon. Mount Saint Mary College has resources that help students become spiritually, morally, intellectually and socially successful, she added.

Give them space.

“Parents should feel comfort in the knowledge that the foundation they’ve built in their child for 18 years is going with them to college,” said Michelle Taylor, director of enrollment management.

“However, parents must realize their children are now busy young adults – both academically and socially -- and they should respect their new independence and avoid the tendency to hover. It’s about letting them grow, not letting them go. And students should be mindful to keep mom and dad in the loop which helps ease any parental worries.”

From classroom to lecture hall.

“Each student needs to make the jump from high school to college learning. We can help them recognize their strengths and vulnerabilities and encourage students to ask questions even if they seem silly or mundane, said Fallon, whose department of psychology is one of the most pursued fields of study at the Mount.

“Students need to recognize as early as possible if they may need extra help with a difficult course and should go directly to the professor to ask advice on how to prepare or study more effectively. The people who are most successful in college or in life are usually the ones who are proactive and do just a little bit more than expected,” said Fallon.

Mount Saint Mary College offers strong fields of study in education, the health professions, business, human services and liberal arts, she added. It is the only private college in the mid-Hudson Valley to offer a four year degree in nursing as well as master’s degrees. For information about the college, visit

Fill the nest.

“If your child going off to college yields an empty nest at home, then parents need to rediscover the hobbies they haven’t had much time for in the last 18 years,” said Waller-Frederick. She added that parents can plan special times with each other or spend extra time with younger siblings.

“All the excitement of starting freshman year can be mixed with a sense of loss for parents. Parents can seek out other moms and dads whose children are leaving home for the first time and share their feelings and get support.”

Send care packages.

“Students love to get packages from home,” said Taylor. “Parents can send holiday packages, baskets around exam time or something just for the fun of it. Things like microwave popcorn, change for doing laundry, family photos and/or news from home are always a welcome way of saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ and of course, homemade chocolate chip cookies not only make your student feel good, they help the process of making friends be a whole lot easier!”