9 Conversations to Have With a Future College Student

by | May 24, 2024

By Sherri Gordon Medically reviewed by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP

Whether this is your first child heading off to college or your last, it is essential that you carve out time to talk to your young adult about making wise choices at college. Clearly, the best time to have this conversation (or series of conversations) is during the summer before you drop your freshman off at college. But even if you have already helped them unpack and set up their college dorm, it is never too late to strike up a conversation.

And don’t worry. You are not wasting your time or your breath even if they look bored out of their minds. Research shows that parents are the number-one source of information for college students. In fact, this generation of students is particularly close to their parents. For instance, a Teen Health & Technology Survey found that 55 percent of teens got their health information from their parents before turning to the internet. So, chances are good that your teen wants to hear what you have to say.

Starting the Conversation

Although there are multiple ways to start a conversation with your young adult, most experts recommend keeping pre-college conversations casual. Avoid lecturing soon-to-be students and instead engage them in the conversation by asking questions about their thoughts on a particular subject rather than listing all your rules and recommendations.

You also could open a conversation with a question. For instance, ask what strategies they plan to use to stay safe on campus or how they envision staying in touch with you while away. When parents lead with questions, they are giving students a chance to share what they think first. And chances are you may be on the same page already.

Another option for starting a conversation with your student is to ask permission to have a conversation. For instance, you could say: “I would like to talk to you about some things you may experience while away at school. When is a good time to talk about those things?” This gives your teen some control over when and where the conversation will take place.

Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to having a conversation. You know your teen better than anyone else. So, use the method that works best for you. The key is to be respectful and not act like you have all of the answers. Also, be sure to listen. You will learn a lot about your young adult that way.

All too often, parents put off, or altogether fail to have the important conversations with their kids before they leave the nest. In fact, it is way too easy to send kids off to college with a worn cliche like “these are the best four years of your life.” While this may be true, it does not excuse parents from the responsibility of having several important conversations with their kids before they leave for college. Here is a list of things you should talk with your future college student about.

The College Opportunity

Going to college is a wonderful gift that not every teen will have the opportunity to experience. Whether it is grades, money, or other circumstances that keep kids from attending college, your student needs to realize that not everyone is heading off to college for four years in the fall. This is a huge and very expensive gift, they are about to receive and they need to recognize that. Fostering a thankful heart and a sense of gratitude for this opportunity will prepare your child to take this experience seriously and make the most of it.

Budgeting and Money

Beyond tuition, college brings a host of new expenses that need to be discussed openly and honestly with your student. First-year students will be encountering a whole new level of financial responsibility and need to be guided along the way. It is very easy to waste money without even realizing it. But, the more frugal your student learns to be, the less debt everyone incurs.

As a result, talk about how everything from books to food is going to be paid for and who is responsible for what. For instance, some parents are willing to purchase books and the meal plan for a student but ask that anything extra is covered by the student such as supplies and eating out. Additionally, talk to your student about expenses like clothing, entertainment and even joining a fraternity or sorority. Most of the time, parents are willing to cover the necessities like a new parka or snow boots but leave the “cute outfits” or extra sweatshirt as the student’s responsibility.

The key is that you and your student establish some ground rules early so there are no surprises, especially if you are giving your student access to a credit card. Other expenses you might want to discuss include dropping or adding classes. This can get expensive. So you want to be sure your student knows what your expectations are in this area and who will foot the bill. By doing so, you will avoid money stresses.

Behavioral Expectations

It is always a good idea to sit down with students and explain what is expected of them. For instance, you might talk about the importance of going to class every day and not skipping classes. You also might want to share how you expect them to handle academic issues if they arise. Do you expect them to notify you when a course grade drops below a C? Maybe you would also like for them to reach out to a professor for help or to advocate for themselves if the grading seems off.

It also is a good idea to stress the importance of building relationships with their professors and why it is a good idea to go to office hours. These budding relationships not only give them additional insight into the classes they are taking, but they also help them develop a network of people that care about their success.

You also may want to discuss how you expect your teen to handle their other responsibilities like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and being responsible for their day-to-day life. Lastly, you may even want to encourage your teen to join study groups or participate in extracurricular activities.

Communication Rules

Perhaps one of the most important conversations you will have with your student is how you will communicate with one another while they are away. Too many times, parents and students have different expectations of what this will look like. Parents expect more communication and students expect less.

As a result, it is important to set some ground rules from the beginning. For parents that want to talk to their students consistently, it might be helpful to establish a day and time each week when they will talk, Skype or FaceTime. As a parent though, you need to be flexible. Sometimes your student will have a study group or other obligation and cannot talk to you at the scheduled time. Be sure they know that while this is fine, you do expect them to reach out and schedule a more convenient time to talk.

Stress to your student that consistent communication with you is an expectation. Meanwhile, on the flip side, be sure you give your new college student space. Do not text every day and be sensitive to their schedules. You want to stay in touch but you want to foster independence too. As long as you set some ground rules from the beginning you both will be happy.

Binge Drinking

Talking about college drinking can be a challenging subject but one that needs to be addressed. It is important to keep this conversation factual and to avoid being overly preachy or emotional. Start by explaining that binge drinking involves having four to five drinks in a short period of time. Additionally, tell your teen that binge drinking is a real problem on college campuses, with 60 percent of college students 18-22 drinking in the past month, making it an issue they may feel pressured to participate in.

Stress the fact that not only is drinking against the law, but it also can open the door to a number of problems. For instance, nearly 700,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking and nearly 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 experience alcohol-related sexual assault and date rape.

Binge drinking also can lead to poor academic performance. In fact, binge drinkers who consumed alcohol at least 3 times per week were roughly six times more likely than those who drank but never binged to perform poorly on a test or project as a result of drinking and five times more likely to have missed a class. What’s more, binge drinking can be fatal. Each year, nearly 2000 students die from alcohol-related, unintentional deaths. For this reason, it is important that your new student understand the risks associated with binge drinking.

Sexual Safety

Sociologists who study sexual assault call the beginning of freshman year, the “red zone” or the riskiest part of a college, especially for a young woman. In fact, some estimates indicate that 73 percent of college sexual assault victims are freshmen or sophomores, and 88 percent of gang-rape victims are freshmen.

For this reason, it is very important that your new student knows the risks associated with sexual misconduct and how to stay safe on campus. One way to do that is with a buddy system. This means that your student never goes to parties alone and never leaves anyone behind. The key is to plan ahead and watch out for one another.

Another good rule of thumb is to be sure that their partner says “yes” to whatever they are doing instead of expecting a “no.” If their partner is unable to say yes or never gives actual consent, then it is not acceptable to proceed. Both partners need to say yes to what is happening. Finally, students should know that they never accept a drink from someone else but always get their own drinks.

Mental Health Issues

Research shows that it is not uncommon for teens to experience a variety of mental health issues throughout college. For instance, nearly 75 percent of all mental health conditions start before the age of 24. This should not be surprising since college is a big transition and places a lot of stress on the developing teenage brain. What’s more, for many college students this is the first time they are away from the protective family cocoon that provided so much comfort and security.

The important thing is that your student understands the risks of mental health issues and what to do should they start to experience signs or symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. You also may want to brainstorm ways in which your teen might handle the stress that college life brings.

Release Forms

Once your child is 18, you will not have access to their grades nor will you have access to their medical records. That is unless they sign a release form allowing you to have access to that information.

If your student refuses to give you access to this information, then it is time for a serious talk especially if they are still on your health insurance plan and you are footing the bill for college. Perhaps, it’s not that your teen has anything to hide, but more about feeling independent and having more freedom. If this is the case, then talk about other ways they can have more freedom but why allowing you access to this information will benefit you both.


While you are having all those discussions about not walking alone on campus at night and the importance of having a buddy at parties, you also need to talk about protecting their identity on campus. Too many times, roommates feel like they should share everything. And while it is fine to share Clorox wipes, pencils, and paper, it is not acceptable to share passwords to computers, smartphones and so on.

Additionally, banking information, credit cards, and money should be kept secure and private along with passwords to social media accounts. Keep in mind that college dorms are ripe for identity theft. Discuss the importance of keeping certain things private. It also might be a good idea to make sure all bank and credit card statements are online and not sent through the mail. Likewise, they should not share any college-issued codes or student ID numbers. They are not being rude or selfish, but instead, are protecting themselves from any breach of security that could impact them down the road.

Weil College Advising

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