Finishing Strong: 10 Tips for Parenting a College-Bound Child

Kristi Woods
Updated Jun 18, 2021
Finishing Strong: 10 Tips for Parenting a College-Bound Child

Part of our task as parents is to love and launch our children successfully into adulthood. This includes our offspring who eye college on the horizon. So how do we parent them in preparation?

Our oldest child slid into campus life this summer. We found ourselves prepared for some situations, but a bit surprised by others. Thankfully, many parents who journeyed before us offered us sage advice. More importantly, God’s love and Word provided solid ground to stand on.

Consider these 10 tips, both from Scripture and practical suggestions, for help when parenting a child bound for college.

1. Encourage Them to Remain in Jesus

Life experiences vary. They will in college, too. Once on campus, our students may face a protected, familiar environment, or they may find themselves shining a light for Jesus amid a dark space. Those students who continue to stand firm on or return to the foundation of Jesus Christ will do just that – stand.

Encourage your child's one-on-one relationship with Jesus, as well as church and youth group attendance. Surround those college-bound teens with Christians who feed their faith, and with service opportunities too. In conversations, turn their eyes to Jesus and the prize of heaven for making daily decisions, including those concerning high school and college.

Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. John 15:4 WEB

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young woman browsing library shelf

2. Encourage Their God-Given Bent

‘What do you want to study?’ Some teens have an answer; others simply shrug the shoulders. 

Some of our sons and daughters are born with math or science skills defying understanding. Others excel in the arts or athletics. But not all teens exemplify obvious skills. All, however, display the handiwork of God in one form or another.

Encourage the college-bound child to take notice of what they enjoy, note what seems natural or intriguing, then research related occupations. Visit an adult working in the profession. Read about it online. Above all, teach the college-bound student to seek God’s wisdom for ultimate direction. After all, He created that child.

For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13 WEB

3. Promote Protection with Boundaries

When my oldest son’s height exceeded his father’s and he filled out with the thickness of a man, he became vocal about freedom from church and youth group. Meanwhile, my parenting confidence stood on shaky ground. Somehow, we traversed that uncomfortable territory, settling on required Sunday church attendance and a mix of Wednesday youth group participation and free time. He has since thanked us many times for those decisions. My shaky knees thank God. 

Continue parenting that child with a loving hand – right into college. Set boundaries. Offer communication and listening ears. Encourage with attaboys. Review grades and homework. Stay in touch with teachers. Forgive yourself when a parenting stumble occurs. And certainly continue on that mile.

Related: Listen to Our FREE New Parenting Podcast! Christian Parent/Crazy World with Catherine Segars is now available on You Can Listen to the First Episode Now:

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4. Pray in Preparation

As mamas and dads, we know how to pray, right? Let’s set those prayers staunchly on the lips. God hears.

Pray for high school students and younger ones as well. Pray concerning their high school experience, college entrance tests, visits, choices, roommates, dorm situations, classes, and more. Pray for wisdom as a parent. And encourage students to pray and trust God as well.

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thess. 5:17 WEB

5. Encourage Godly Friendships

High school often brings a new offering of friends – some good influences, some bad. College will as well. Even if the same group continues to travel the grades together or newbies find their way into the group, encourage godly friendships.

Cohorts in school rate high on children’s influence meter. They will in college as well. Keep watch. Pray, encourage, and set boundaries accordingly.

Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens his friend’s countenance. Prov. 27:17 WEB

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6. Remain Grounded with Truth

When troubles arise, where does a person turn? Christians are fortunate to have a Savior who offers refuge and truth.

Speak the Word over children, send it in text, read and discuss a Bible or Devotional app together each morning on the way to school. Consider reading one chapter of Proverbs together a day. (How appropriate the book contains 31!) These are just a few ways to remain grounded in God’s truth.

 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. Psalm 119:9 WEB

7. Explore Colleges

Children approach life in a myriad of ways. Likewise, colleges have their own unique feel and fit. Tour campuses with your child, visit with faculty, and ask important questions about dorm life, extra curricular offerings, and studies of focus. Make the trek in the fall of or summer before their senior year, but also consider earlier visits.

Incorporate a college visit with summer camp. My family stopped at a college in Colorado on the way to my son’s sports camp at a different university. Surprisingly, our then 14 year-old daughter, who simply tagged along, perked up and is now considering that Colorado school. Meanwhile, our son enjoyed his camp but opted to attend elsewhere.

8. Encourage Balance

Band, athletics, dance, drama, student government and more: extra curricular activities seem to multiply like rabbits. And somewhere in that mix walks Jesus and sleep - hopefully. Why not remind our high schooler to grab what they love while leaving the others behind?

An over-whelmed student often struggles to find God’s best and His rest. Balance proves a friend. As preparation for college, why not strengthen that “balance muscle” during high school? 

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mature woman working on paper work and finances

9. Prepare Finances

Wouldn’t it be fun if money sprouted from the ground or grew on trees? Alas, it’s not reality. Plan ahead to fund college.

If college remains several years in the future, consider 529 plans, UTMAs, or some form of savings account geared toward college. Once college looms near, consider scholarships and summer jobs for tuition, book, or spending money. Compare total college costs for each school the student considers. Compare those costs to each other as well as the student’s capability of meeting them. And certainly consider the possibility of debt-free college. Some states or counties offer free or reduced costs at commuter colleges. It’s one more way to prepare and parent the college-bound student.

The rich rule over the poor. The borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7 WEB

10. Cover with Love

As our budding adult emerges, the reins of parental guidance loosen. The relationship with our child shifts. One thing doesn’t: love.

When our high schooler struggled in his faith, my concern grew. Parenting pride shot an arrow through my heart as well. My husband and I prayed and loved as best we knew how, leaving the ultimate result to our son and our Father. Once on campus, with darkness taunting, Joel’s fledgling faith blossomed. He grasped and found fellow believers. He meditated on God’s Word. And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Continue to point college-bound children toward the love of our Father. Continue to shower them with parental love. Through good choices and bad, simply love.

Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:8a WEB

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Originally published Monday, 26 April 2021.