5 Things to Consider When Sending Your Student Off to College

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn…”

 Ya know… The Byrds had it right! No, No! It was Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3 that had it right, but The Byrds sure did put it to good music… didn’t they?

We all know this, and we all feel this. There are certain seasons of life that we are glad to see go. Times of pain, conflict, sickness and suffering are always gladly dismissed. And yet, there are other seasons of life that we wish could last a little longer. There are other stretches of time that make us wonder why… with all of our technological advancements… why haven’t we discovered how to roll back the time.

There may be no group of people on the planet more eager for time reversal than those who are parents of a recent high school grad. For many parents, sending their children off to college for the first time can be a time of intense emotions. You are glad, excited, anxious, fearful, proud, and sad all at the same time. You are wondering where the time has gone, and you’ve got flashbacks hitting you all the time of memories of when your child was younger. As you look at the calendar, the dates marked “Move-in Day”, “Welcome Week”, and “Freshman Orientation” are starring you in the face. You want to make the most of what time you’ve got left… and you should.

If you’re a parent in this season of life, here are 5 things to consider as you send your student off to college:


You’re probably rolling your eyes as you read this one. It seems like a given. You’re saying, “Give me some real help and something I don’t already know.” I understand that… I really do… but this is precisely the reason we need to make this point so explicit.

In this season of transition and launch, we need to remember who it is that we are praying to, and how it is that He receives our prayers (James 1:5, 1 Peter 5:7). As you pray for yourself and your student during this time, know that you are praying to a God who sees you – and your child, knows you, cares for you, isn’t bothered or surprised by you, and is apt and ready to give generously each of your needs. So don’t hold back! Get aggressive! Approach your Father God with all you’ve got, and then more. He can handle it.

Among other things, make it a point to pray a couple specific things for your student:

  • Pray that God would wreck their lives with the truth of his gospel in ways that neither you nor they would ever think to ask or imagine. Desire more than goodness and ambition for your child. Pray that God brings about a wild godliness and deep affection of Jesus in them.
  • Pray that they would gain such a vision living for the glory of God and his kingdom that they begin to see their future career as secondary. This isn’t to say that they don’t take their future career seriously. However, it is to say that they would see their lives as being for God’s glory such that they would see their education and future jobs as opportunity for and servant of greater mission.

Click to tweet: Pray that your college student would see their education and career as an opportunity for mission. @chadekincer

Praying this way can be scary, but a life lived in worldly safety and unresolved faith is even more frightening. God loves your student and considers their life of infinite worth. Pray God-sized prayers, and dream Kingdom-sized dreams for them.

Teach Life Skills

As one has worked with college students and has had them in my home often, I am often amazed at how ill-equipped many of them are to handle the simple things in life. Take time to review things like washing clothes, operating an iron and ironing board, and living on a budget. Your student will likely painfully endure these conversations, but they will be better for them. While it is no doubt rewarding as a parent to feel needed and wanted, it’s even more rewarding knowing you equipped your child well to take all of life “by the horns.”

Let Them Make Mistakes

This one is difficult, and I commend this with all tenderness and understanding. No parent wants to see their child make a bad decision or in the midst of a huge mistake. However, we have to know that these things will happen, and it’s okay when they do. As a parent, your role isn’t to swoop in with each mistake to keep them from feeling consequences of their decisions. Instead, you are to be a helper, supporter and guide.

Click to tweet: Your role as a parent of a college student is not to keep them from the consequences of their decisions. @chadekincer

Think for a moment about all the mistakes that you made when you were their age – mistakes that you were well warned against. They were painful to be sure, and the last thing you want is to see your child repeat them. On the other hand, it’s true that you wouldn’t be who you are today if you hadn’t learned to get up, trust God, and walk through it by taking responsibility along the way. In the same way, you must give these same opportunities to your child as painful as it will be to watch.

This doesn’t mean that you should never step in. It means that it will take great discernment and patience of knowing when and when not to step in. By stepping in too often we can actually keep our children from feeling and seeing their need for Jesus. Your job is to guide them in standing and walking again after they fall (Prov. 24:16), not to pick them up yourself. You teach and help, but only Jesus rescues and heals.

Tell Stories

By this point, you know as well as anyone that your eighteen year old believes they know everything. Sitting down to teach and direct your recent grad won’t get you very far, so take a different approach. Teach through telling stories from your own life and college experience. Tell stories of what you remember the transition to college being like that first semester, adjusting to life away from home for the first time. Recount for them ways you made friends, and or ways you wished you had sought to make friends. Share memories of things that went well and things that went poorly. Tell them what you’ve learned about the importance of having a good church family to be a part of. Surprise them with stories they’ve never heard before. Believe it or not, telling stories of failure actually serves to foster respect and wisdom rather than create an excuse to repeat the same mistake.

Click to tweet: Teach through telling stories from your own life and college experience. @chadekincer

Teaching through stories can be really effective and even serve to draw your family closer. Stories are far more memorable than raw lessons (see the parables of Jesus).

Rehearse the Gospel

Finally, look for opportunities to rehearse the gospel as a family. Find time to talk about the person and work of Jesus in the thick of real life. For example, as you go about your way and talk with your student about their fears, be sure to point to the ever-present nearness of the Holy Spirit. As you talk with your older student about their anxiety in getting the right internships or job, remind them that their worth is found not in a great resume but in all that was accomplished at Calvary. As you talk with your freshman about loneliness and making friends, assure them of their complete approval and acceptance before God as a corrective for seeking the approval of man. In the end, an education in rehearsing the gospel is one that we will never graduate from, but one that will prove invaluable in every season.

The good news for all of us is that whether you find yourself welcoming the turning of this season or not, you can rest knowing that God is working every bit of it for your good and the good of your grad.