Blog College Preparation, Parents

4 expectations parents should set with their college student

Monday, August 28, 2017


When my children were younger, I always enjoyed planning their backyard birthday parties. My kids chose predictable favorites for their birthday meal and I invited them to help me plan activities. Their participation made it easy for them to anticipate the fun and they were rarely disappointed.

My strategy was born out of my experience seeing anticipation outpace reality. I remember my sister often being disappointed on her birthday. When I was growing up, planning didn’t often involve kids, so it was easy for my sister to imagine something much grander than reality. When it was my turn, I had high hopes that I could avoid disappointment by engaging my kids in more discussion.

We are often victims of our own “hoped-fors” instead of masters of our “planned-fors” and birthdays are not the only time we are vulnerable.

Now fall semester has begun. With our students, it is easy for hopes to get ahead of plans. While we are busy packing in the last family picnic of the summer, getting the commuter car in shape, or shopping for the dorm room supplies, it is easy to get so busy that we forget to discuss what will happen next. 

I recently heard expectation defined as predictive disappointment. That certainly applies to my sister’s experiences with birthdays. In order to avoid dashed hopes, we could try to eliminate expectations altogether. Stephen Hawking once said, “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” Perhaps a birthday bash always exceeds your expectations if you didn’t recall it was your birthday. Then again, it is also true that raising expectations can help us achieve excellence—if goals are clear—and shared.

So how do we manage our expectations while we help our students reach their potential? Acknowledge your hopes and let them steer you to planned conversations. Pick a topic or two and find an opportunity where you and your student can both share your expectations. 


Maybe your habit has been to text with your student throughout the day and you are looking forward to hearing the “play-by-play.” Your student may need a longer tether and appreciate a discussion about how often you each hope to be in touch. It’s easier to reach a compromise if you understand each other’s expectations.


In college, grades aren’t sent home to parents, and the Federal Privacy Act (FERPA) dictates that parents do not have access to student grades unless specified by students. You know your student and probably have an idea of how much accountability they will need regarding their studies. Talk beforehand about grades, academic success, and what consequences might be in store for poor grades.

Visits home 

You might hope that your commuter student would have some meals with the family during the week but return to campus for weekend social opportunities, or hope that your residential student is making campus their home without coming home every weekend. A discussion with your commuter establishes how their schedule fits in with family plans. Your resident student likely needs your affirmation that you know that there are activities every weekend for them at school and you are not expecting them home until Thanksgiving. You may actually need to speak the words, “Laundry lives where you do and adults do their own.”


Money can get complicated during college, with loans, scholarships, and jobs. You may want your daughter to have a job to pay for books and expenses or you may want her to prioritize for getting academics underway before she attempts balancing work and school. Your son might be expecting you to pay for gas money and take out loans without his help. This discussion is better had now-than-later.

I love how Proverbs 24:14 tells us, “Wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short” (ESV). Could it be that if we know and understand each other’s expectations, our hopes might also be realized? Is it possible that talking about mutual expectations with our college students brings a greater likelihood of peace in our relationship? We aren’t talking about birthday parties, but being a college student is worth celebrating so it also deserves planful discussions to avoid disappointment and achieve satisfying results.