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Articles / Admissions / Broken Holiday Breaks

May 19, 2020

Broken Holiday Breaks

Here's a fun topic for high school seniors and their parents: 2010's (that's next year's) Christmas/holiday break strategies.

Fun? Maybe not.

The issue is how to bring newly free first-year college students back into the parental nest for a relatively extended period of time without driving Mom and Dad into therapy. Those all-night college dorm bull sessions and comings and goings at all hours are great on campus, but they don't go over well at home, especially when Mom and/or Dad has to get up and go to work first thing in the morning.

Here's a file photo of some parents waiting for the train to take them to the office during Christmas break for their kids:


Now, you aspiring college students certainly don't want to be responsible for creating a scene like the one pictured above for your parents, do you? Likewise, you're going to need some plans for surviving your Christmas holiday break at home.

Here are some vital tips from Jennifer Eblin. Take notes.

A College Student's Guide to Survive Christmas Break at Home

I still remember the first time I came home for Christmas break as a college student. After months of late nights with my dorm mates, learning new things at school, parties, and a whole lot more, I was looking forward to spending some time at home. With visions of old friends, mom's cooking, and sleeping in my own bed dancing through my head, I eagerly grabbed my dirty laundry and headed home. Can you guess what happened next?

Mom was busy with her own things, my old friends had plans of their own, and I found myself spending a lot of time on my own, or talking to my friends from college on the phone.

Coming home from college for Christmas break is one of the hardest things that a college student can do. They find themselves trying to balance their new personality with the one they had before college, and trying to cram in as many activities as possible before heading back to school. Most students either end up feeling disappointed or incredibly tired by the time they finally do head home. To avoid that, follow some of these tips to survive that college Christmas break at home.

1. First and foremost, you absolutely have to talk things over with your parents before heading home. While technically you're an adult, you will always be a child in your parents' eyes. They may expect you to check in with them frequently, or even adhere to a curfew. It will be uncomfortable and feel strange, but that old adage of "their house, their rules" still sticks. Before coming home, try explaining to your parents how you feel. You never know, they just might relax their rules a little.

2. Try to talk with your old friends a few times before heading home, even if its just a couple of quick emails sent back and forth. That best friend from high school might be heading to Aspen for his Christmas break, or taking off for parts unknown with some of their new college friends. If you arrive home to find that all your old friends have their own plans, you might end up feeling a little disappointed.

3. Take some time to relax. College breaks are all about relaxing, but many college students focus on trying to do as much as possible and forget about relaxing. Its important to take some time off from all the Christmas and other holiday festivities and just spend a little time relaxing.

This might mean a walk around the neighborhood, going to a movie by yourself, or just sitting in your room and listening to music. Whatever it is that relaxes you, you should do it during your Christmas break.

4. Balance is key during the holiday season. You will have your friends wanting some things from you, while your family wants something completely different. After a few days of combining Christmas cookie baking, nights out with the friends, caroling, and partying, you're going to be ready to drop. Instead of trying to do everything as fast as possible, try spreading things out a little. Spend one day doing things with your family, and then spend a day with your friends. This can help you achieve some sort of balance in your life.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is that you need to realize that not everything is going to stay the same. As much as you've grown and changed in those few short months spent at college, your friends and family have changed just as much. That quiet boy who spent time in the library may have turned into the campus stud, and that happy go luck cheerleader has suddenly turned into a goth girl. College is a time for growth, and your friends may have just grown a little.

College students trying to survive Christmas break at home would be wise to follow some of these tips. It might not be everything you expected or hoped, but you can still have a good time being home for Christmas.

For some perspective from other parents about what their college kids do on holiday breaks, check out these comments from the College Confidential discussion forum. Neil Schoenherr, writing for Washington University in St. Louis News & Information offers parents some excellent thoughts on this touchy topic:

When college kids come home for the winter break, stress and tension can mount

When college students return home for their winter break, it can be an adjustment for the entire family. While parents may have preconceived ideas about how the family will spend the holidays, students are anxious to try out their newfound independence.

"The winter break is the first extended time at home for most freshmen since they left for college in the summer," says Karen Levin Coburn, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of the freshman transition at Washington University in St. Louis. "The first semester at college may have been their first glimpse of freedom. They wonder if it is possible to go home and still maintain their newfound independence."

Coburn is co-author of the acclaimed book, Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years, which, in its fourth printing, has sold more than 300,000 copies.

She offers several tips for students and parents to keep in mind when the student comes home for the winter break:

Don't be alarmed if students come home exhausted from the stress of taking final exams. "Parents should not be shocked when students come home with bags under their eyes," Coburn notes. "Most students have just finished finals, they are exhausted and they may sleep a lot the first day or two. Parents who have invested money and energy in their children's education may not understand the zombie re-entering their home."

If there are siblings at home, the family has to reconfigure. However, that usually isn't simple, Coburn says. "For example, the middle sibling has been used to being the eldest, and it may be more of a drag than a delight to have big sister home again." Younger siblings may need support from parents when the returning college student goes off with the family car without consultation or monopolizes the phone hour after hour.

Parents who welcome home an only child or the last to have left the home may realize that they have gotten used to privacy and a clean house, Coburn says. "Though parents enjoy the reinvigorated hustle and bustle of family life, they may have moments of longing for the spontaneity and quiet of life on their own. Actually, that ambivalence is not unlike the ambivalence their child feels about being back home versus being on his or her own."

Be prepared to discuss money issues openly. "Try to find a time when the student is open to discussion and tactfully try to help him or her understand the necessity of budgeting," Coburn says. Because money is tight for most parents of college students, finances may become a dominant theme during the student's first visit home. The high cost of college, coupled with a student's lack of budgeting skills, may spur tension over the topic.

Parents should discuss the student's budget, how much the student is earning and where the student may be spending too much. "Students may come home and announce they spent over their budget," Coburn says. "Pizza is the biggest culprit. First-year students may have as hard a time managing money as they do managing time."

Don't be surprised if time is a potentially explosive topic. Coburn urges parents not to revert automatically to the old rules from their child's high school days when he or she still had a curfew. "They may be going out the door for the evening, as their parents are heading to bed," Coburn says of first-year college students at home on break. To help ease the tension, Coburn suggests parents engage in straightforward discussions and develop mutual expectations with students during the first few days at home.

"It's tough on parents because even though they have grown used to not knowing what time their child comes back to her room when she's away at college, parents can't turn off their 'worry button' when it's 2 a.m. and the car isn't back in the driveway. Parents don't stop being parents. They worry about their child's safety. It helps to come to an agreement that recognizes their child's growing independence, as well as their own need not to worry."

Conversations between parents and students are essential and can be extremely rewarding. "Winter break is an opportunity for students to reflect on the semester — on ways they have changed, on what they have learned and on how their goals are evolving," Coburn says. "Conversations between parents and their college age children about these topics can be extremely rewarding for both parties."

The break also provides students with the opportunity to introduce their parents to some of the ideas, books and disciplines they have discovered during the semester, Coburn adds. "Parents who engage in conversations of this sort with their children, rather than just asking them about grades and professional goals, are likely to find this a very rich experience. It's a great feeling to have your child open up new worlds for you. Listen to their excitement over new ideas without judgment. Ask your child to recommend a favorite book to you."

Make plans early. Since the winter break can last almost a month, it can be a challenge to coordinate family schedules during the busy holiday season. Students can feel pulled between spending time with their friends or their families. Plan ahead and consult your newly returned college student when making plans for family parties, vacations and other family events, Coburn suggests.

Refrain from doing everything for your student. It's easy to fall back on old habits when your child returns home. "Though it may seem easier to do it yourself, encourage your college-age student to continue to take responsibility for the things he or she has been handling in college: medical appointments, finances, communications with the college or university, car and computer maintenance. This helps your child continue to grow self reliant and competent," Coburn says.

Help foster independence in your student. "One of the things we wrote about in the introduction to our newest edition of Letting Go is that this generation — the boomer parents of Millennial kids — is used to a very hands-on approach," Coburn says. "So they may be especially challenged to step back when their kids are in their orbit again. They have been used to making plans for their children and orchestrating much in their lives. Their intentions, of course, are to provide help, but doing so can sometimes inhibit their college-age child's growing independence."

So, there you have it: Tips for both college students and parents about dealing with holiday breaks. For all you high school seniors about to be admitted through the ivy gates, take heed. Your parents are people, too. For you Moms and Dads, try to understand what your new college frosh are going through. For both parties: Don't let the holiday breaks break you!


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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