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As a parent of a college freshman, attending Parents & Family Weekend can be a wonderful opportunity to re-connect with your child and gain some valuable insights into their experience to date in their new home away from home.

Parents & Family Weekend can also be an opportunity to take an up-close look at the investment you just made, bring some fall or winter clothing that may soon be needed, and to the extent drop-off day was less than ideal, it’s an opportunity for a bit of a “do-er,” without the stress of move-in day and the wide range of emotions associated with saying that initial goodbye.

Here are 10 tips to consider:

1. Get their buy-in.
Before planning your trip, have an open conversation with your child about their preferences for Parents & Family Weekend. Some students might be excited to have you visit, while others might appreciate more space as they continue to adjust to their new environment. If you do get your child’s buy-in, be sure to get crystal clear on who you will bring along – whether it’s younger siblings, a grandparent, or someone else. Additionally, make sure you check on how many visitors each student can have, and of course, check on policies for four-legged visitors on campus if you are considering bringing a pet.

2. Book ahead.
Parents & Family Weekend can be a busy time in college towns, so be sure to plan your trip as far in advance as possible. Research transportation and accommodation options and make reservations early to ensure you can arrive on time and can stay at a convenient location. Before booking a hotel, however, check with your child’s school to see if discounted rates may be available. Also consider booking a local restaurant in advance if you feel you’ll have enough downtime for a family meal.

3. Check out the agenda.
Many colleges organize a wide range of activities during Parents & Family Weekend including lectures, workshops, and campus and community tours. Take a careful look at what’s on tap and to the extent possible, decide in advance what seems worth pursuing.  Keep in mind that some activities may require advanced registration. Ask your child what they’d like to participate in and plan to balance your time between group activities and one-on-one time together. And of course, leave enough unscheduled time to allow your child to be your guide for at least part of the weekend so that you can begin to see their community through their eyes.

4. Embrace flexibility.
Even with advanced planning, it’s possible something will change by the time you arrive or while you are there. Keep in mind your child may have commitments to keep or an assignment to wrap up during the time you are visiting. Stay flexible.

5. Respect their space and relationships.
If your child is living on campus, respect their living space during your visit. Ask if they’d like you to see their room and follow their lead in terms of spending time there. And when introduced to new friends, avoid asking too many questions. Not every student, for instance, has a clear idea of what their major will eventually be.

6. Explore the surroundings.
If possible, venture beyond the campus to explore the town or city where your child’s school is located. Familiarize yourself with the local environment to gain a deeper understanding of their new part of the world and help your child to see a bit more of their surrounding community if they haven’t yet ventured off campus.

7. Listen and learn. 
If possible, as you spend time together, make note of any signs that your child is facing one or more challenges or might need some type of support they are not currently receiving. Ease into inquiries about how they are feeling and doing so far. This can open the door to meaningful conversations about their well-being and the range of available resources if there seems to be a need for one or more.

8. Connect with other parents.
Parents and Family Weekend is an excellent opportunity to connect with other parents and share experiences. Taking time to talk with other parents, and/or to join a parent-focused Facebook group, can help provide an ongoing support network as you navigate this new phase of your life.

9. Stock up.  
Shop for any items your child may need, particularly if you have a car and can get to stores that are challenging for them to reach on foot or via public transportation.

10. Plan your next gathering. 
Whether you’ll next be together for a weekend later in the Fall, at Thanksgiving, or when the semester ends, be sure to discuss plans. This will give you both something to look forward to as the weekend winds down and you prepare to say goodbye.


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.