How to submit a question

If you are a parent with a child either in or going to college and have a question about any aspect of higher education, send it to me in confidence at I will select questions to be answered and then place the answers on this blog for public view but without the name of the person asking the question. I have access to many college and university faculty and administrators (deans, health care professionals, coaches, admissions and financial aid officers) and they will assist me in answering your questions. Neither I nor my company, Academic Collaborations Inc., receive compensation for this service.

Monday, September 11, 2017


High school AP courses are supposed to be the equivalent of a college course and are often used by first-year students to reduce the number of requirements for college graduation and thereby to partially address college cost.

This is all good and well, but I have one caution.

When I went through orientation at Tufts University in preparation for my book Off to College: A Guide for Parents I was surprised to hear a departmental chair caution first year students attending orientation not to use AP credits to blow off introductory science courses. The reason? Many science and math departments have a sequence to their majors. Thus, for example, if your son or daughter plans to major in biology as a pre-med student, the biology courses leading up to the major follow a particular sequence, and if they don't take introductory biology, they might not fully understand what comes afterwards. This departmental chair instead encouraged students with science or math APs not to drop introductory science but instead to take a more difficult introductory course. Maybe your son or daughter doesn’t shorten the time it takes to graduate but by taking a more difficult introductory course freshman year they are in a better position to do well in the major and thereby do well on the MCATS and get in to a good medical school. In any case they should check with their adviser as to whether it is advisable to use APs in lieu of an introductory course or a particular distribution requirement.

In my next post I will talk about what your child should do if they have a difficult roommate.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


Here is what I heard from a very frustrated mother: "My son arrived at college two weeks ago and he hates his roommate. When my son is trying to study, his roommate plays loud music. My son goes to bed at 10 pm and gets up at 7 am. His roommate goes to bed in the early hours of the morning and doesn’t get up until noon. What can I do?"

First off, unless the situation is dangerous, parents shouldn’t do anything about their child's problematic roommate except provide moral support. In the first instance the child, not the parent, should try to resolve this problem.

Data shows that many roommate situations are problematic at some level. So is life! Part of going to college is for your child to learn how to live with someone who is different or difficult.

But if the situation becomes intolerable your child (not you) should consider doing two things:

First, they should try to work out a solution with their roommate. Learning how to negotiate change and how to compromise is an important lesson in growing up.

Second, if this doesn’t work—-if the roommate refuses to compromise—your child should meet with the director of student housing and present the problem and if nothing happens at this level he or she should see the dean of students. If there is a reasonable concern, most colleges will help make a change.

My point is: Learning how to present a grievance and how to work up the chain of command is a worth-while life lesson. If parents always intercede for their children, they will never learn how to take control of their life.

In my next post I will share an article I wrote for Inside Higher Education that talks about the critical importance of the first year in the lives of our children.

Monday, August 28, 2017


I once got a phone call from a mother whose daughter, a first year student, told her parents that she wanted to quit college and come home. This mother went on to say that her daughter calls home several times a day and that for the past two weekends she has been at home. What to do?

I told her that sometimes first year students have second thoughts about college especially in the beginning. Things aren’t going right. Roommate problems. Getting cut from the team. Not fitting in socially. And then the midnight phone call arrives: “I want to come home?”

Shari Benson, Director of Orientation at Morningside College in Iowa says that when things are not going well, parents are not helpful when they tell their student to just give up. “In this situation,” she says, “tough love is what’s needed!”

Perseverance is an important life lesson. Of course, if things are really bad it might be time to pack it in. Being harassed because you are gay with no support coming from the college administration is one instance. Experiencing deep and unrelenting depression is another.

But in most cases, it’s almost never a good idea to just give up. Indeed, if parents just take a deep breath they will usually discover that by the end of the first semester if not before, everything will be just fine.

Don’t panic. Give it some time.

Let me add some thoughts on calling home and coming home on the weekends, two indications of homesickness.

An important part of college is learning how to be independent from Mom and Dad. First year students call or text home and average of 13.4 times per week. I'm not sure this is good. If they are talking to their parents all the time they are not connecting with their classmates. Nor are they probably getting their academic work done.

Coming home every weekend is also not good. First year students often complain that there is nothing to do on the weekend. But at most colleges there is plenty to do. Again, engaging in extracurricular activities on campus like sports, clubs, and community service is an important part of the college experience and also part of growing up and becoming an independent person.

Talk to you child on the phone only a couple times a week (not too much more), but also encourage your child to get involved and not to come home every weekend. We know that students who get involved do better academically and are more likely to graduate on time.

Next week I will explain the dangers of overusing high school Advanced Placement (AP) credits in order to graduate faster.


Here is an email I received from a father whose son was at orientation and about to register for first semester courses:

"My son is finishing orientation and must sign up for his freshman courses. I want him to take lots of economics, accounting, and business management because these courses will land him a good job after he graduates. I also want him to major in one of these disciplines. But last night he called home saying he was taking a course in (of all things) music and might even major in it! I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. Advice?"

Here was my advice:

"One of the great things about the American higher education system is that we give students two years to decide on a major. Meanwhile, they are usually required to take general education courses (writing, world history, etc.) as well as distribution requirements in the sciences, in the social sciences, and in the humanities including music. We want students to decide for themselves what their interests are and these interests might or might not correspond to what their parents are thinking. After taking these first year and sophomore courses your son might discover that he is actually interested in business. Or he might decide that his passion is music, or something else. The point is, by taking a diverse collection of courses, students (beginning first year) learn how to think creatively and analytically, how to write and communicate effectively, and basically how to understand the world around them, things they will use no matter what profession they end up entering.

At most colleges and universities the major does not need to be declared until the end of sophomore year, so there is plenty of time. Indeed, many colleges encourage students not to make up their mind about a major prematurely and to only do so when they are fairly certain what their interests are.

I know you are concerned that your son have the tools to get employed after graduation. But I would argue that even if he eventually declares music as a major, he will still be very employable. The trick is to encourage your son to visit the college guidance office as early as possible so that as he decides on what courses to take and ultimately what subject to major in he can also see what employment opportunities will be available to him when he graduates.

Let me give you an example from my own family. When he went to university, my son-in-law was expected to major in business. But like your son, he was passionately interested in music. So he went to university where he majored in business administration but with a minor in music. Today he runs a very successful business that provides background music for corporate advertising. He followed his passion but he also got some good counseling.

Next week I will write about homesickness and how much your child should be calling or visiting home.

Monday, August 14, 2017

When a Dad Says Goodbye to His Daughter


It is 5 a.m. as we drive toward the airport, and I am struggling to come up with something meaningful to say to my younger daughter as she leaves for a preorientation wilderness hike sponsored by Tufts University, the Boston-area college she will soon enter as a freshman.

Emily is a bright, self-confident and extremely capable young woman whose only shortcoming is that she sometimes puts things off until the last minute. But I am her father, and fathers always worry about their daughters. So I'm wondering, will Emily survive college without her mother and father around to give advice? Can she balance the social demands of college with the academic? More immediately, will she lose herself in the wilds of New Hampshire? In my imagination at least, the permutations of what can go wrong seem mind-boggling.

We arrive at the Richmond International Airport and unload an extremely heavy knapsack, packed very hurriedly the night before. As designated pack mule -- always the father's role in these matters -- I am lugging through the airport 80 pounds of the assorted stuff Emily says she needs for her wilderness trip, including designer hiking boots, snacks, rain gear, shampoo, more snacks and her teddy bear.

Emily is now very emotional. Where two days ago my wife and I were pesky nags, imploring her to clean up her room and pack her bags, we are now long-lost parents. She is crying as though she will never see us again.

With more than a tear in my own eyes, I utter the brilliant send-off I have been laboring to compose: ''Emily, I have two words of advice: 'Plan ahead.' ''

My daughter -- a slight 5 feet 4 inches -- disappears down the jetway and into the plane. I should have told her how much I love her.

Fathers usually miss out on the mixed emotions of watching their children depart for the first day of school. That is what mothers do. But fathers who say goodbye to their college-bound daughters get a pretty close sense of it. Few record the experience. I did.

AUG. 31: We are now making the 500-mile trip from Richmond to Boston in a rented van packed with more stuff, most of which will be hauled back home on parents' day two months hence. I know this from experience, not only as a college president but also because my older daughter, Kate, a senior at Tufts, made the same mistake.

Sept. 1 (a.m.): Move-in day is a father's nightmare. This is the point where middle-aged men get hernias. Emily's room is on the fifth floor of a residence hall with no elevators. What was the architect thinking?

Like most parents who got up at dawn to make the trip to campus and then moved mountains of junk up five floors, I am in a daze. So is everyone else. Parents are running red lights. Distracted freshmen are walking in front of moving cars. But where is my daughter? As I begin to unpack the van, Emily is spotted limping across the parking lot, with an uneasy smile on her face. She had a blast in the wilds of northern New England, but the ill-fitting hiking boots have apparently ruined her feet.

Sept. 1 (p.m.): Nothing goes according to plan. We miss lunch because Emily wants a shower. As a consequence, we also miss the matriculation ceremony. And then we are in the parking lot again saying goodbye. All three of us are choked up. This time, I remember to say, ''I love you, Emily. ''

Sept. 2: Emily's first call home. ''I'm overwhelmed and stressed out,'' she sniffles. ''Overwhelmed'' is a universal condition of new college students. Emily is obviously homesick. We later learn from her sister Kate that Emily left her meal ticket in someone else's room and therefore cannot get into the dining hall.

Sept. 3: Emily calls to confess that she has lost her meal ticket and is starving. But not to worry. She will buy food in the student union convenience store.

Sept. 4: Emily's blistered feet are infected, requiring a visit to the infirmary. She tells us she is on antibiotics. Emily has also hit the jackpot on the registration lottery, getting first choice for all her courses, including one entitled ''Love and Sexuality.'' I ask her what this course is about.

''It's English composition, Dad,'' Emily says somewhat indignantly.

Sept. 5: It's late Sunday night, and Emily calls her mother in a panic. She and five friends decided to explore downtown Boston, but she got separated from the pack and is now in a phone booth in an underground ''T'' station. She cannot take a cab back to school because she asked one of her pals to carry her wallet for her since her jeans have no pockets. She cannot walk very far because of the condition of her feet.

Emily: ''Mom, how do I get back to campus?''

Mom: ''I really don't know, sweetheart. I live in Virginia. What is the name of the 'T' station?''

Emily: ''I don't know.''

Mom: ''O.K. Calm down. Go to the token booth and ask them how to get back to Davis Square.'' Emily gets back to campus in short order and even calls us to say that she is there safely.

SEPT. 8: It has been three days without a phone call. We figure Emily must be settling in. She is now calling to say that she made the sailing team, which surprises us, since Emily never sailed before. The story is that at a fraternity party she was met with the eager stares of at least a dozen men. Tufts's Division I sailing team hangs out at the fraternity, and they were looking for ultralight women crazy enough to act as crew -- aka ballast -- in their racing dinghies.

I quiz her, ''What do you do as crew?''

Emily says, ''Oh, it's kind of boring, Dad. My job is just to throw my body from one side of the boat to the other.''

She also reports that she found her meal ticket and, after surviving on pizza, has finally eaten a real meal.

Sept. 9: Emily calls with important news. ''Love and Sexuality'' is oversubscribed, and she has switched to a writing course on ecology, which she hates. So she's planning to drop it and finish her composition requirement next semester. She is going to join the Outdoors Club in addition to sailing. Before I can express concern about her priorities, she says, ''Got to go now, Dad. Lots to read for class. No time to speak.'' I hear a young man's voice in the background and worry.

Sept. 11: Emily is stressed out again. The infection in her feet is spreading. With the demands of sailing, the Outdoors Club and other social life, she can't keep up with homework. I suggest she go light on nonacademic activities. She tells me to mind my own business.

And then, silence. No phone calls for almost a month!

Oct. 8: Emily finally calls again. She seems to be a transformed person. No more crises. No more complaints. The tenor of her conversation is entirely different. ''I just attended a class that was awesome,'' she says. She loves college! She is getting her assignments in on time! She got a B on her first exam!

Clearly, Emily has learned from all the problems she has experienced. She has conquered, or at least lived through, adversity, and she has done it on her own.

This is partly what college is about, after all: figuring out how to survive without the presence of parents. Now, somehow, Emily has done it, becoming a self-sufficient college freshman.


Monday, August 7, 2017


Look at the photo above but also the cover of my book to the right. Both speak volumes to what most kids take to orientation namely piles of “stuff” most of which will return home a couple weeks later when you visit them for Family Weekend. Do yourself and your child a favor: Cut the “stuff” in half (or maybe by a third!!), taking only the essentials. At a later visit you can take to college what is really needed.

My daughter wanted to take so much to orientation that we had to rent a minivan only to re-rent the same minivan two weeks later to pick up all the stuff she didn't really need including a frying pan, a full wardrobe, ill-fitting hiking boots that later caused blisters, a roll up bed, and a myriad of stuffed animals.

And parents of a certain age: Avoid getting hernias by picking up boxes that are way too heavy. I still haven't recovered from moving in my daughter and that was many years ago!

Good luck!!

In my next blog I will share a reprint of my New York Times essay about saying goodbye to my daughter as she left for college orientation.

Monday, July 31, 2017


Jerry Roderick is the director of public safety at Washington College in Maryland. Jerry was a college parent himself, and when I interviewed him for my book he suggested that before sending a child off to college parents should have a candid conversation about what they and their children expect the college experience to be and that if there is a big disconnect to talk about it. “They should talk about alcohol and drug use and about personal and community safety,” he told me. He then shared his philosophy of what it means to be a college community. “First- year students need to think of their residence hall as their home. At home they keep the doors locked, not blocked open as too often happens in the residence halls. At home, they don’t bring strangers into the house. At home they look out for their parents and their siblings. And you know what? Most kids respond positively to this conversation. Most are responsible people when they come to college. They do look out for themselves and for their classmates. They call Public Safety if help is needed.”

In his position, Jerry Roderick has seen it all. And I think his idea of having this conversation before a child leaves home for college is a good one. Too many college students who end up in the dean’s office or worse could have benefited from some timely advice from their family.

Next week I will have some advise as you and your child plan to pack for college.