Should College Freshman Head Home Every Weekend?


My son goes to college about 35 miles from home and has a car at school. He has come home every weekend since he started his freshman year, except the one weekend that our family went there for a football game. I didn't think anything of it but then my brother said my son should assimilate more and not be with us all the time. Should we make him stay at school over the weekends?

"The Dean" often says that one of the most important parts of going to college is the "going" itself. So I agree with your brother. Even if your son is officially installed in a dorm during the week, if he's heading home every weekend he's missing out on key collegiate experiences. On weekends at school, he can attend athletic events and parties in large groups or simply "chill" in smaller ones. He will be surrounded by concerts and movies, by comedy nights and trivia nights ... many for free. If your son is always returning home, he will miss the chance to expand his horizons, to meet new people and to learn more about himself as an adult who is close to his parents (nothing wrong with that!) but still separate from them.

When my own son started college five years ago, I reminded him that — even if he were to earn straight A's — when it came time to get a job, he would be competing with many others who shared his major and his GPA. But if he were to seek out internships and paid or volunteer work and if he were to join organizations on campus, his resume would be more likely to stand out in a crowd. Likewise, getting involved at school will make the undergraduate years more meaningful ... and fun. Typically, weekends are the best time for college students to pursue extracurricular endeavors — official or otherwise.

Of course, for some students with special needs (such as medical conditions or anxiety disorders), living in a college residence and attending classes during the week is stressful enough, and these students may require the safety net that weekends at home will provide. But it sounds like that's not your son's situation.

Moreover, you haven't mentioned if there's a love interest on the home front. Many students in my orbit who only stay on campus during the week are rushing back to be with a significant other. Is that true for your son? I've also heard of students who leave school on weekends to avoid an alcohol or drug scene. While such motives may seem sensible, it's more sensible for students to seek out campus groups that are focused on community service, environmental issues, academic pursuits, religious life and other areas of interest that aren't likely to draw a big party crowd.

Finally, is it possible that your son thinks he's supposed to come home every weekend? I've heard of students who somehow feel it's disloyal to remain on campus when their families are nearby. This tends to be more prevalent when the students are in the first generation to go to college (is that your son?), but many families don't discuss their contact expectations for freshman year, and thus both students and parents may misjudge how frequently they should phone, text, email and even visit.

So "The Dean" thinks that your next step should be a sit-down with your son where you suggest that he spends more time on campus. He may be freaked out by this idea ... or he may be relieved. But if he seems adamant that he stays with the current plan, you can back off, at least for now. It's very likely that, in his own time, he'll start to realize that he's missing out by heading home, so he could alter his patterns on his own. And, if not, you can discuss the issue again when the new semester begins and he may be more confident and ready for a change.


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