Should You Go to College Parents' Weekend?

Mother and daughter

One common misconception about your kid's freshman year of college is that you won't see them very often. In fact, during freshman year, it's quite possible that you will see your young adult approximate every six to eight weeks:

  • Parents' Weekend (October)
  • Thanksgiving (November)
  • Winter Break (December-January)
  • Spring Break (March-April)
  • Summer (May-August)

For some families, the intervals may not be as frequent, depending on the distance from home to school, budgetary constraints or other factors like jobs or travel.

However, for most students, leaving school during breaks is not negotiable, as dorms close up for vacations and students have to leave, whether to return home or go somewhere else.

Why Go to Parents' Weekend? Or Why Not?

The concept of Parents' Weekend is a good one. After the emotional and exhausting experience of moving your child into the dorm, visiting once they are settled in is a nice idea. The question of whether to go visit is not a question for most families, but the question of when to go is one to consider.

Parents' (or family) weekend can be a crowded, hectic, expensive time to return to campus. Whether located in a large city or a small town, prices for hotels for parents' weekend will be considerably higher than normal, a factor of supply and demand. The campus will be swarming with other parents, and the genuine atmosphere of the school may not be there because of the planned festivities and activities.

Parents' weekend is almost as important for the colleges and universities as it is for the students and parents. Seeing the campus when it's shiny and clean and awash in positive energy and good intentions is reassuring for parents and a public relations boon for the schools. 

If your student wants you to visit, then making the effort to get there is worthwhile.

However, you might want to consider alternatives if you have visited the campus numerous times before and don't feel the need to once again walk the quad or tour the buildings. Instead of a weekend, if you can make a day trip to visit, that's an option to consider. If you want to spend a weekend but perhaps when it's a little quieter, you can plan to visit a week or two after the official parents' weekend. 

Activities and Events

Most schools will have a large number of activities, sporting events, lectures, meet and greets and more available to parents and students, sometimes beginning on the Friday morning of Parents' Weekend. Middlebury College, as an example, had 61 separate events to choose from on schedule for their 2016 Parents' Weekend, including an organic farm open house and an evening of "storytelling without notes." On the west coast, UCLA has fewer events to choose from, but it's practically mandatory to attend the Bruins football game. UCLA also offers a parent/student yoga class. 

All of this activity can be daunting, and parents may feel that they need to do as many things as they can. Rather than running ragged and being more overwhelmed than you were during dorm move-in just a few weeks prior, Think carefully about how much time you want to spend listening to lectures, watching presentations or even cheering on sports teams.

You are there to see your child, first and foremost, and following his or her lead is probably the best idea. Ask what he or she wants to do before making plans, and be sure to visit a favorite local restaurant for a good meal. 

The Emotional Part

For some freshmen, just being with you will be a jolt to the system—after spending the previous weeks adjusting to being on their own, having mom and dad around for a few days can be disruptive to their progress. If it's been a rocky start, be prepared for a few tears and a healthy dose of homesickness. It's a good idea to get a hotel room with two queen size beds in case your freshman wants to stay with you for the weekend, which he or she most likely will. 

Parents' weekend is not a requirement, though it may feel that way freshman year. Consider other options for seeing your college student if Parents' Weekend doesn't work for your schedule or budget—and remember, it will only be a few weeks until he or she is home for Thanksgiving.