Making the Most of Our Campus Goodbyes

For most of us, August is one of our favorite months. Memorable vacations, campfires, trips to the pool, Little League playoffs—all packed in with a sense of urgency, for school is just around the corner.

But, for others, August is a time of dread. Take, for example, parents wondering how they will hold it together as they bid farewell to their incoming freshman at his/her new campus home. Their imaginary “practice sessions” didn’t usually end well, so they fear a looming disaster. Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget our first college goodbye experience. Our family set foot on the beautiful campus of Pepperdine University for a 2+ day orientation. The goodbyes wouldn’t come until day three. My wife and I were composed through day two, which was cause for optimism. But, then came Showtime.

We all met in the gym—imagine a jam-packed facility filled with families dreading their final moments! The administrators gave great talks (especially the “don’t helicopter” ones).  All was well until, with no warning, the speaker said, ”Parents, now it’s time for you to leave.” It wasn’t just the abruptness that caught us off guard, but imagine a gymnasium filled with a thousand goodbyes! Are you kidding me? Don’t they know that tears are as contagious as yawns?!? I could feel my composure slipping away, and by the time it was my turn, all I could get out was, “Thanks.” (Postscript: a few days later I penned a letter to Michael saying everything I planned on. And, I did much better the second time around with Lauren!)

Now, from the benefit of experience and as an author of books for parents and teens, I look at this time as an incredible blessing and opportunity. It IS a huge milestone for parents, so there WILL be emotions. That’s okay. After all, this once newborn is now a young adult primed to fulfill his/her dreams and purpose! And their parents played a huge role in shaping this once child for a promising adulthood.

With that, here are some tips to make the most of your goodbye (from both your perspective and that of your teen):

  • Share the honor and privilege it has been to be their parent
  • Let them know you are proud of the person they have become
  • Affirm your belief in them—the person they are, the choices they will make, and the future that lies ahead
  • Acknowledge (and abide by!) your new role as chief coach and encourager. Remember, you’re releasing an eagle to soar, not a kite to control.

(Note that these don’t have to wait until the final goodbye, but they are important messages to share at some point.)

But, now, for a little tough love. There are far too many stories of parents who are holding on for dear life rather than letting go, and it’s not helpful. Here’s a sampler:

  • A mother showing up with her 24-year old son at his final job interview. She cost him the job.
  • Employers who are conducting workshops for managers to deal with parent interference
  • Parents incessantly texting to check in
  • Parents who complain to professors about their student’s grades
  • Parents who feel it’s their duty to intervene when their student faces challenges or the risk of failure
  • Parents whose identity is so consumed by their role as mother and father that they choose to remain in the driver seat rather than move to the passenger seat.

These are real and they are becoming increasingly common. They are self confidence destroyers and entitlement mentality boosters. We can do better—especially for them, but also for us.


Few milestones are as emotional and meaningful as our goodbyes when our kids leave home—to colleges or otherwise. Sure, we will miss them, but we can also look forward to a new adult-to-adult relationship, too. So, let’s strive to fill our goodbyes with gratitude, belief, confidence, and love.


Have you experienced a college goodbye? How did it go? What other ideas can you share to encourage others in the “letting go” process? We’d love to hear from you.


P.S., We invite you to check out our book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Here’s a link to learn more.

Avoid College De-Railers for Optimum Success

The United States has a respectable college enrollment rate—in fact, it’s whopping 70 percent. We can be proud of that. But here’s a startling fact: more than 30 percent of those students will drop out after their first year. That means one third of the people who start on their post-secondary education don’t make it to their sophomore year. We should be concerned about that.

What do these statistics tell us? I interpret it this way: Our society does a great job of encouraging young people to enroll in college or university after high school. It’s of high importance, or else so many people wouldn’t choose this path. However, somewhere, somehow, something is going awry. Are students not receiving the preparation they need to succeed at independent living? Is the “college or bust” message dissuading students from better fitting alternatives? Is school too expensive? Do students feel unimportant and unvalued in their larger classes (small fish in a big pond effect)? Are students making choices that derail their educational career?

It’s likely a combination of all of the above, but today I want to talk about choices—specifically, those that prematurely end college careers. Derailers come in many forms, so we encourage you to discuss these with your student(s) before they land on campus:

  1. So much freedom, so soon! Although academics and a future career are the core reasons for attending college, other (more) appealing activities abound! Use your newfound freedom to become a wise manager of your time and priorities. Sure, it’s great to stay up as late as you want,, but remember the choices you make with your recent autonomy will affect your class attendance, your overall academic experience, and even your financial aid package. Put simply: Don’t skip class! Similarly, be wise when making your social, recreational, and activity choices. The party scene and all it’s trappings can easily be the beginning of a very slippery slope. Remember, studies are the top priority—your “job” so to speak. The rest is frosting on the cake.


  1. Financial irresponsibility. I’ll never forget what it felt like to check my bank account when I was in college. It wasn’t unheard of to only have 50, 25, or even 10 dollars in there. Frivolous spending on unnecessary eating-out, coffee, clothes, or entertainment could have seriously de-railed my entire college education. If you’re in a similar boat, keep your end goal in mind to help you curb the temptation to spend. Remember, if you save now and focus on school, you’ll reap the benefits later. Budgeting and self discipline make all the difference.


  1. Poor study habits. College is harder and more competitive than high school. There are longer papers, more intense exams, and higher expectations. Discipline and focus are key if you want to succeed (and make it to graduation!). Manage your time wisely, create a study planner, and don’t participate in “extra” activities until all of your homework and studying are complete. (If you’re looking for more advice on creating good study disciplines, we devote an entire chapter to it in What I Wish I Knew at 18. You can buy the book here.)


  1. Surrounding yourself with the wrong people. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positive influences during this time in your life. Hanging out with the wrong crowd can hinder your success in a variety of ways (and just because you’re not in high school anymore doesn’t mean you’re immune to peer-pressure!). Creating lasting friendships with like-minded people can take time and effort, so be patient and know you may need to put yourself in new environments in order to make new friends. Think “positivity” in everything you do and everyone you are with!

I hope this advice—coming from someone not too far removed from the college experience—can help you prepare your student for what’s ahead. And, if you need one more statistic to show what’s at stake, I’ll leave you with this: college dropouts make one million dollars less over the span of their careers than individuals with degrees!*

Success in college comes from knowing what to do and what de-railers to avoid. By discussing these before the fact, we can improve our graduation rates and the futures of our next generation.

*Source: “The Economic Value of College Majors,” by Georgetown University Center on Education and The Workforce.