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Getting through a first term or semester of college is a significant milestone for both your child… and you.

Your child’s first months of college may have been challenging, stellar, or somewhere in between. Whether it’s your first child to wrap up an initial phase of college or your third, each child will have unique experiences to reflect upon.

Here are six tips to help you and your child review their first months of college with care:

1. Find the Right Time

This isn’t the type of topic to jump into the second your child returns for winter break. At that point, they may have just finished exams or submitted papers and are slowly coming up for air. Wait until your child has been home for a while, has had some time to reflect on their own, and/or has begun to open up on their own about their recent experiences.

2. Listen Carefully and Suspend Judgment

Ask open-ended questions about their overall experience to see how much your child is willing to share and with what level of specificity. Lean into the topics they feel most comfortable discussing. Keep in mind that even if these first few months weren’t what was originally envisioned or hoped for by either of you, there’s still plenty that may have been learned and countless opportunities ahead to leverage that knowledge to produce different results.

3. Encourage Reflection on Achievements and Growth of All Types

Inquire about the areas of their first-semester experience they feel most proud of.
As college is as much about personal development as it is about academic learning, encourage your child to reflect on how they’ve grown personally and in other ways outside of the classroom. Maybe they joined a club or began to play an intramural sport, made new friends from different parts of the world, or discovered something new about themselves. Or perhaps they’ve learned to manage their time or money better. Celebrating achievements of all types and sizes is crucial for their self-esteem and motivation. And, encouraging them to make note of areas where further growth is desired can help them feel in the driver’s seat with respect to what the future can hold.

4. Discuss Academic Performance Thoughtfully

Recognize that your child’s grades are not the only measure by which to evaluate how their first months of college went. Resist the urge to put too much emphasis on this topic, and by all means, avoid comparisons to the academic achievements of their friends or relatives. If your child didn’t meet their own or your expectations, avoid criticism. Instead, explore what might have been challenging for them. Let them identify possible strategies for improvement, such as better time management, tutoring services, or speaking with professors during office hours.  If an academic scholarship is at risk or the ability to continue in a particular course of study seems uncertain, encourage your child to realistically explore with an advisor what options exist.

5. Emphasize the Importance of Health and Well-being

Remind your child that their physical and mental health is paramount to everything else. Inquire about how they’ve been managing stress, eating habits, sleep, and exercise. Depending on what you learn, suggest they consider accessing campus resources that can help with any specific area of concern or with their overall well-being.

6. Offer Continued Support

Reassure your child of your ongoing support. Let them know you’re there for them no matter what circumstances arise and that you’re proud of how far they’ve come.


Reviewing your child’s first semester of college is a valuable way to connect during one of the most transformative periods of their life. Use this initial conversation as a stepping stone for many more to come in the months and years ahead.



Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.