5 College Conversations for Families During Winter Break

Use the time together to discuss issues that are key to your student's academic success.

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If Thanksgiving break was a good time for college students and families to check in with each other on grades, social life, health, and career thoughts, the extended winter break offers another opportunity to discuss subjects that might warrant more than a phone call or E-mail.

Here are some conversation ideas to get the ball rolling.


1. Money: At many schools, winter break represents the midway point of the academic year. That makes it the perfect time to take stock of finances.

Talk with your student about how much money they've spent and how much they have remaining. If he or she seems unsure of where most spending is occurring, pull up bank records and talk about ways of tracking income and spending.

[Use these five steps for money management in college.]

Other topics that fall under the money umbrella are scholarships, financial aid, and jobs. Depending on your family's financial arrangements, you may want to visit these areas as well.

2. Living arrangements: For some students, living arrangements can change year to year, and the second semester is often the time when those arrangements for the coming year are made.

Talk with your student about where he or she wants to live during the next school year and, if necessary, do some research into costs, contracts, agreements, and roommates.

[Find out how to choose a good roommate.]


1. Socializing: Who are your new friends at school? What kinds of things do you do for fun? Do you enjoy your roommate(s)? How do you get along with the other students on your floor?

These are questions that parents may enjoy having answered, if only to get a better feel for their student's life away from home. It can also be a time for parents to discover any red flags in the people with which their student is spending the most time.

2. Alcohol: Winter break is also a good time to have what can sometimes be an uncomfortable conversation about substance abuse. For some students, their first semester of college is the first time they drink, or drink heavily. Parents may want to check in, no matter how awkward it may be, about whether their child is making responsible decisions about the temptations alcohol provides.

[Understand the facts about college binge drinking.]

If parents have never had a serious conversation about alcohol with their student, winter break is a good time to speak about its dangers. It may be a way to have fun with their friends, but students often have not considered the implications of alcohol abuse on academics, tickets, arrests for underage drinking, and issues with the university's code of conduct. Parents could even share some of their experiences with alcohol while in college.

3. Adjustment to school: It's entirely normal for a student to feel lonely or isolated during their first few months away from home. During my first year at school, nearly all of my friends were ready to return to the familiarity of home for winter break. If those feelings have become overwhelming, however, students should speak to their parents about ways to get help.

[Find out who to get to know on campus.]

Because they are not on campus with their student every day, parents can often give a fresh perspective on adjusting to college, getting involved, and other common pitfalls that students experience. If a student is struggling, it's best for parents to be in on that struggle before it begins to affect things like academics or health.