Ground Rules for Parental College Visits


College is the best four years of your life (at least, theoretically). It’s about freedom, independence, and eating cold pizza for breakfast just because you can. It’s our first foray into the “real world,” which is pretty exciting, but for parents, I suppose it can be a little frightening to watch the nest empty out.

Hi. My name is April and this fall, I’ll be a college senior.

Having spent three years away from home now, I’ve seen plenty of parents visit their kids at school. I’ll mention right now that I am 110% supportive of parent visits, and I firmly believe that college kids need a little bit of home every now and then. I really love going out to a birthday dinner with my parents.  Just because I’ve moved to a new state, it doesn’t mean that I’ve totally grown up.

That said, however, I think some ground rules need to be set for parent visits. It’s a touchy subject, so here’s a quick guide on how to stay connected with your college student without smothering him.


Call First - You know how awkward it is when the neighbors pop by for a drink and you haven’t cleaned the house? Don’t do this to your kids. Your son or daughter might be a perfect little angel, but her roommates might have company of the opposite gender, and you really, really don’t want to interrupt anything. Plus, your own offspring will without a doubt have some “cleaning up” to do before you come over.

Entertain Yourself - College students spend a good amount of daylight hours studying, and parents should find something to do during that time. Walking into a suite to find your roommate’s parents sitting on the futon and twiddling their thumbs while waiting for their kid to finish writing a paper is awkward, so don’t loiter.

Stock the Mini-Fridge - Not just for your kids, but for the entire room. Trust me. The quickest and easiest way to get on your kid’s roommates’ good side is to feed them. Dining hall food isn’t particularly good, so snacks and dinners out (even if it’s cheap) are always welcome.

Find a Place to Stay - Nothing’s more awkward than stumbling out of one’s bedroom in the morning to find a roommate’s parents asleep on the futon. A dormitory suite is not a house, and there are no guest bedrooms. Make your lodging plans ahead of time.


Be Those Parents Who Visit Every Weekend – Independence only works if both sides participate. You know how your kid stopped calling you everyday after the first week of college? It’s because she’s starting to figure out how living on one’s own actually works. Stay calm. Visiting every weekend hinders your son or daughter’s ability to become independent (and kids really need to learn to cook and do laundry on their own at some point).

Stay for More Than a Few Days - A “visit” constitutes one or two days with your child. If you plan on sticking around campus for a week or so, you’re either looking for a cheap vacation or trying to relive the glory days. Parents should come and go.

Judge – Your child runs on his own schedule now. His suite or dorm room will likely be messy, and he’ll probably wait until he’s all out of socks and underwear before doing laundry. He’ll study late at night instead of right after class and he’ll subsist on ramen noodles and popsicles instead of balanced meals. Just let it happen. Keep calm, turn your gaze away from the dust bunnies piling up in the corners of the room, and save your complaints for the ride home.

Think you’re visiting too much? You might be. If you still need to send your love, stick a care package in the mail. College students love getting presents (this is a first-hand account, and I assure you, it’s absolutely true), because they are non-time-consuming representations of home and family, and also, because you just can’t get cookies at school like Mom makes them at home.

Does it look like there are a lot of rules? Yes, but it’s really pretty simple and it boils down to this: If you wouldn’t want the neighbors to act a certain way in your house, don’t act that way towards your kids.

I’ve spent three years away from home now, and I still get excited when my parents come to visit, because I genuinely want a hug from Mom and Dad and an update on how the pets are doing. But there does come a point when parents overstep their boundaries. So from college students everywhere, please come visit, just don’t overdo it.



Leave a Reply