Going to College While Living at Home?

Four tips on how to make this dorm alternative work for your family

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Young woman working from home, using laptop
Tetra Images/Getty Images

Everyone associates the college experience with dorm life but the fact is, not every young adult lives on campus. If your child is going to a community college or a commuter university close to home, chances are he's going to be rooming with Mom and Dad - and there's going to be an adjustment period for both of you. There are other options, of course, but the majority of community college kids live at home or in an apartment.

Starting college is a major rite of passage, one that is both exciting and anxiety-producing. So on the upside, your child gets to go through that process from the comfort of home, where the food is vastly better than the dining commons, and the bathroom is shared by just a few people, not 50. There are definite benefits for parents too. Your food bill may stay high, but you'll still save $10,000 or more a year on room and board bills. You'll have the company of a bright, interesting student living in your home. And you won't have to worry about the empty nest blues. Yet.

But it can be difficult for commuter students to make new friends and settle into college life without a dormitory's sense of instant community and the ice-breaking help of an R.A. So here are tips to help smooth that transition for both of you:

  1. College students enjoy considerably more freedom than high schoolers when they live in the dorms, of course. But when college kids live at home, friction can arise over young adults living their own lives. Parents need to have open and honest communication with their now-college age children who both deserve and require more independence.
  1. It's tough to feel grown-up in a bedroom with childish decor. Encourage your college student to redecorate his room (or at least replace the posters) or set aside a lounge area so he has somewhere to hang with new friends. If you have a basement or other separate living space, you might want to consider turning it over to your young adult - or young adults. A microwave, a coffee maker and a water filter are good enough to get started on creating a separate kitchen, and if there's a separate entrance to the space, even better.
  1. That said, your young adult's bedroom may be a quiet place, but encourage him to study on-campus, at the library, in the quad or campus coffeehouse or wherever other students congregate. Meeting up with classmates in study groups is a terrific way to meet new people and establish new relationships post high school. It's easy to socialize with old friends, but it's important to make new friends, too. 
  2. If your young adult wants to invite friends to your home, be sure to stay out of their way. Unlike high school when there was a natural connection between you and your kids' friends due to familiarity, proximity and years of friendship, new friends are adults, and should be respected and treated as such. Don't linger when you say hello, just let them have their time.
  3. Urge your child to attend his college's orientation session. If there is a parent session, plan to go. Your presence sends your child a critical message: that his college education is important to you. Community college may not be what everyone imagines when they think of getting their college education, but it's an excellent and important start to higher learning and can offer many options after the two years have been completed. 
  1. Encourage him to get involved in extra-curricular activities on campus by joining clubs or intramural sports teams. It's impossible to meet new people without taking a risk and putting yourself out there, and your young adult may not feel comfortable doing that at first - but encourage him to keep trying. The friends he makes in college could be with him for the rest of his life. Academics are the priority, but by feeling involved and part of the school, your young adult will be more committed to going to class and finishing his education.