Elvira Walker (facing camera) gives a farewell embrace to her son, freshman Rahim Choudary, in front of Brandt and Rhodes halls.
Elvira Walker (facing camera) gives a farewell embrace to her son, freshman Rahim Choudary, in front of Brandt and Rhodes halls. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Advice for parents and students as the new academic year begins

The start of the school year brings with it a host of emotions and challenges. Here are some suggestions to navigate new beginnings.

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The start of a new school year represents an interesting dichotomy for parents and students, especially the first time students move away from home. Students often look forward to being away for the first time while their parents may feel a sense of loss knowing their child is leaving the proverbial nest.

“It can be challenging and very different for students and their families,” said Lynanne Jamison, Ed.D., director of VCU’s New Student and Family Programs in the Division of Student Affairs. “It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions for everybody.”

Even though emotions vary, the general feeling that prevails throughout every new school year is hope, said Jihad Aziz, Ph.D., interim assistant vice provost and executive director of University Counseling Services

“There is hope that the student will do well and be successful and safe,” he said.

The pandemic, of course, has added new challenges to the return-to-school process. Jamison and Aziz offer some tips to help both parents and students navigate the start of the academic year. 

Tips for parents

Be prepared for change.

College gives students an opportunity to develop their identity and sense of self, Aziz said.

“It’s important parents realize that and know that their child will experience some changes,” he said. “They are going to grow. We all change and that change is usually for the better. It’s something good.”

Encourage your child to get involved and build connections and relationships with their peers. 

“One thing we have found is that students who have a sense of belonging tend to do better in college,” Aziz said. 

Trust your child.

Trust in the values you have instilled in them and the support you have provided, Aziz said

Find solidarity by connecting with other families. 

Talk with other parents going through the same process or who have done it previously. Utilize some of the organic parental social media groups that start each school year, Jamison said. (Note: VCU does not monitor these sites.) 

Use VCU’s resources for families such as family.vcu.edu. 

The website “has a lot of information on how to connect with the university and other families,” Jamison said.

“It contains everything from a family blog post we do every week and resource pages to a link to sign up for the monthly newsletter Rams Family Update and a family helpline that’s open Monday through Friday, 9 to 5,” Jamison said.

Parents can contact the New Students and Family Programs office at 804-828-7322 and ramfamilies@vcu.edu.

Switch gears from being a problem solver to being a coach.

Let your student talk the problem through and solve it rather than you solving it for them,  Jamison said. 

Tips for students

Talk to your parents about how you want to communicate.

Do you want to talk weekly? Do you want to text? Make a plan with your parents. 

“Students don’t want to feel burdened but they also don’t want their parents to feel as though they don’t care,” Aziz said. 

Take a break from social media

Ditch Instagram and TikTok for a while to take care of your own well-being. 

“That can help [students] re-focus so they can be successful while they are in college,” Aziz said.

Join clubs and student organizations. 

“Get out there and make connections with other students,” Aziz said. “Find peers who may be going through what you are going through and understand your struggles.”

Go to class whether it’s virtual, in person or hybrid.

“If you don’t go to class, you miss a lot of content,” Jamison said. “Class helps you establish a relationship with faculty.” 

Establish a strong relationship with your academic adviser. 

Their job is to help students figure out what “sparks them and gets them excited,” Jamison said.

“They can assist in helping you figure out how you are going to do the things you want to do. And, use the Navigate app within the VCU mobile app,” she said.

Familiarize yourself with your major map.

Major Maps is a tool to help you understand your course pathway. 

“It’s such a great tool in helping you achieve,” Jamison said.