Do's and Don'ts to Help Your Student Make the Most of College

By taking a step back, parents can empower their students to succeed in college.

College is the time for parents to take the training wheels off and empower their students to make their own decisions.

Updated 9/18/12: A previous version of this article misstated the number of student clubs at the University of Michigan.

With high debt and low employment rates, college students are entering a difficult market after graduation.

Roughly 53 percent of bachelor's degree holders under the age of 25 were either unemployed or underemployed last year, according to an April 2012 report by the Associated Press.

For students, capitalizing on the college experience via clubs, internships, and campus resources may mean the difference between waiting tables and working in their chosen field.

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"Our resources make the best students even better," says Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.

Among the resources available on most college campuses: academic advisers, tutors, writing centers, professors, and student groups.

Parents can be advocates for those resources, but need to respect their student's fledgling sense of independence and empower them to make their own decisions, Hower says.

These do's and don'ts can help parents encourage their child to get the most out of college, while still allowing their student to navigate his or her own path:

DO encourage your student to connect with resident and academic advisers, career services, and other key campus personnel.

"I always tell new students that one of the most untapped resources on campus is the career services office," Lindsey Mayfield, a junior at the University of Kansas, wrote in a recent blog post for U.S. News. "They receive information about hundreds of internships and job applications that students can begin applying for as soon as freshman year."

DON'T make the connection for them. Chances are high that your son or daughter will call when something goes wrong. Whether it's a fight with their roommate or a class they are struggling in, resist the urge to intervene, says Susan Art, dean of students in the College at the University of Chicago.

"The parent should not feel that his role is to step in to fix it for the student," Art says. "The student needs to learn how to fix problems for herself."

While it may be difficult for parents to step back, it will ultimately empower their student, she says.

DO your research. The University of Michigan has more than 1,300 student clubs, and so many options can be overwhelming for a student, says Hower.

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Most schools have websites, newsletters, and even university offices dedicated to helping parents help their students, she adds, prompting parents to inform themselves about what's available on campus.

"Schools as large as Michigan can be overwhelming," Hower says. "Try and support your students, and help them be confident in seeking these activities out."

DON'T force it. Instead of hounding your student to join this club or that group, act as a referral agent and pull these resources out when your student comes to you with a problem or concern.

"If your daughter is anxious about a writing assignment, suggest that she … visit the Writing Center to discuss her thesis and essay organization with a tutor," advises the Academic Success Center at Southwestern College in California.