Information for Families

The following are resources that are especially for family, parents, and caregivers of Pacific University students. Those concerned about the mental health of a student are also welcome to call the SCC 24/7 Support & Crisis Line at 503-352-2999 to consult about how best to support their student (language translation services can be provided for over 240 languages). Additional resources to support your student at Pacific can be found at the Office of Parent & Family Support

Understanding the Transition to College

Those of us at Pacific University who work with students know how valuable a resource families can be for college students. We find that the students whose families are actively aware and maintain open communication lines with their student are the ones who are the most likely to succeed academically, make wise and appropriate choices, and refrain from engaging in high-risk behaviors. The college years are full of change for family members as well as students. Transitions that are occurring may be hard to understand at times, and the following information can be helpful to remember.

What your student may experience

For your student, college will likely be a period of intellectual stimulation and growth, career exploration and development, increased autonomy, self-exploration and discovery, and social involvement. During this period, your student may forge new identities or seek to clarify their values and beliefs. This may require an examination of self, friends, and family. It may also be a time for exploration and experimentation, and a period in which your student may question or challenge the values you hold dear. The changes your student may experience can occur quickly, as they begin to develop new peer relationships, gain competence in new areas, and learn to manage their independence. It is important to recognize that every student will experience his or her own unique set of challenges and adjustments, just as every family will have different expectations for and reactions to the college experience.

What families may experience

Often overlooked is the fact that the college experience is a significant transition for families as well as their students. You may experience feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride when it comes time for your student to leave for college. At the same time, you may feel a sense of sadness and pain and have many understandable fears and concerns about your student’s future and well-being. You may worry about safety issues and the ability to care effectively for themselves. You may fear “losing” your student as they begin to function more independently, form deep attachments with peers, and explore their values and beliefs. You may be concerned about how your student will deal with alcohol, drugs, and sexual relationships. You may also wonder how performance in college will reflect on you as a family member. You can expect to feel a variety of emotions.

How you can support your student

  1. Although students want and need to become more autonomous during this period, it is important for your student to know you are still there for them and available to talk about issues which arise. Maintaining a supportive relationship with your student can be critical to their success in college, particularly during their first year. If you and your student were not particularly close prior to their leaving home, it is still important for you to convey your support. You may be surprised to find that some space and distance can help improve your relationship.
  2. It is important to maintain regular contact but also to allow space for your student to approach you and set the agenda for some of your conversations. Let him or her know that you respect and support his or her right to make independent decisions and that you will serve as an advocate and an advisor when asked. Finally, recognize that it is normal for your student to seek your help one day and reject it the next. Such behavior can be confusing and exhausting for parents, so make sure to take care of yourself by talking about your feelings with your own support system.
  3. Be realistic and specific with your student about financial issues including what you will and will not pay for, as well as your expectations for how your student will spend money. It is also important to be realistic about your student’s academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your student to set their academic goals; encourage them to do their best and to seek assistance if needed.

How you can support yourself

  1. Recognize that it is normal to have mixed feelings when students go to college. Feelings of pain and loss often accompany separation from loved ones. It is also normal to feel a sense of relief when your student leaves for college and to look forward to some time alone, with your significant other, with friends, with family, or with your younger children.
  2. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise during this period of adjustment; develop and maintain your own support systems.
  3. Do your best to maintain your own sense of well-being. This may involve eating and sleeping well, exercising, and setting new and creative goals. If your student has moved away to college, perhaps it is a good time to do some of the things you put off while they were growing up. Taking on a new project or hobby can be an excellent way to channel your energy and feelings.

Student Counseling Center Services at Pacific University

The Student Counseling Center at Pacific University offers a variety of services to enhance your student's academic success and emotional well-being. These include confidential short-term individual and group counseling for students experiencing a variety of personal-emotional issues, crisis services, referrals for psychological or psychiatric services beyond those offered in the center.

When might counseling be appropriate for your student?

Students seek counseling for many reasons including, but not limited to the following: loneliness and adjustment issues, concerns about career choice and/or academic performance, family concerns such as grief or divorce, emotional difficulties such as depression and anxiety, roommate conflicts, eating disorders, problems with alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal feelings. Students may be seen at the Student Counseling Center or referred into the community depending on the nature of their presenting issues.

What does confidentiality mean for parents?

Confidentiality is essential to the counseling relationship we establish and maintain with students who seek our services. We adhere to confidentiality guidelines mandated by law as well as those required by the American Psychological Association and our professional licensing boards. We understand and appreciate that family and caregivers often wish to be involved when their student seeks counseling; however, the aforementioned confidentiality guidelines do not permit us to talk with family about their student's participation in counseling without the student's written consent. We cannot confirm or deny that a student has come to the Student Counseling Center for a counseling session or disclose the name of a counselor who might have seen the student. However, if you are worried, you are welcome to contact the center and share your concerns with a staff member.

Recommended Resources

Letting Go

A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years -- by Karen Levin Coburn (Preface), Madge Lawrence Treeger

College Times

College Times is a section of the NY Times Online. If you haven't accessed the NY Times site before, you will have to register and establish a password. It's free and full of great information for both students and parents.

The Student Counseling Center staff can recommend topic specific resources upon request. Please call for more information.