Tips for Supporting a University Student

By Nipissing University
supporting a university student, teenager walking down street
Photo by Jesús Rodríguez via Unsplash

1. Don’t ask them if they are homesick.

Both you and your student will have a variety of positive and negative emotions about living apart.  Homesickness is a common experience for many first-year students. Be prepared for it even if your student is the type who cannot wait to flee the nest. 

However, try not to ask if they are homesick.  Of course, they are, but they might not think about it until you ask.  It’s ok to tell them you miss them, but don’t make a big deal of it and remember they miss you too!

2. Keep in touch…but give space. 

Although students are sometimes eager to be away from home, take the time to let your student know you are thinking about him/her.  Call, tweet, Facebook, email and even visit (but call first). Regular contact can help keep communication open, which is important for both you and your student. Remember to give space but show that you are thinking of them. 

3. Ask the right questions.

Try to phrase your questions so that you are showing interest in what they are doing.  Inquire about friends, classes, social events, studying, papers, professors, etc. Listen to the answers, sometimes you can tell a lot about what’s going on by what they do and don’t answer. 

4. Respect independence and growth.

The first year of university is a time of developmental transition that can be both exciting and intimidating.  During this time of extreme change, expect that your student may express a wide range of emotions, thoughts, and observations about their ‘new life’.  Remember that they may try things that you and they never imagined. 

5. Provide comfort. 

When students are experiencing stress, often the most comforting place to turn is home.  Do not be surprised if you receive tearful calls of loneliness and frustration. Know your student is seeking comfort and you are an invaluable resource.  Remind your student that there is a community of support at the university.

6. Be supportive about stress.

Many new responsibilities will occur that have the potential to cause considerable amounts of stress.  Budgeting, cooking, managing school, finding a way around a new city, and meeting new people are just a few overwhelming responsibilities your student may experience.  Often, as young people gain more responsibility for themselves, they gain a deeper sense of understanding and respect for you and all you have done for them. Remember to let them know it will all work out!

7. Send stuff…They’ll love it.

Care packages are an excellent way to show your student you’re thinking of them!  Everyone loves receiving packages in the mail. Send something, every once in a while; some candy, a gift card, photos of the dog, a letter, or anything else you think they might like. 

8. Expect and respect change. 

University in particular, and young adulthood in general, is typically a time of identity exploration.  Expect your student to experiment with new interests, ideas, and people. Though you may hear and see things that seem out of character, exploration, experimentation, and expression are natural parts of this stage of development.  Enjoy their curiosity and know your student is the same person.

9. Respect that they’re ready to live their own lives.

Be prepared to feel ambivalence about ‘letting go’.  Know that your presence in your student’s life is as vital as always – it just may not be expressed in the same ways!  Also remember that when your student returns home, they may be used to greater independence which may mean that there could be compromises ahead on the rules that work for both parties before. 

10. Trust your student and yourself. 

Trust that all of the years of effort you have put into giving your student wings will begin to show.  The future, though unknown, will have its own share of trepidations and comforts but there will always be pride.