finish collegeThis is not a line from a bad romance novel,  but rather good parenting advice for college bound students who we want to finish college.

My mother in law used to say that we hold on with open hands. Parents are often afraid to let their kids out of their sight.

What can happen, who might they meet, how can they be controlled? I am not sure how much control anyone has over an 18 year old frankly. And how safe can we make them when one commuter student I knew had bullets land in her bedroom from a drive-by?

At some point they are going to go away and so we should be prepared and in fact, in their own interest, we should let them go when college time rolls around. They will be far more likely to finish college.

There are studies, including one by the University of Missouri, showing that students who live on campus are more likely to finish college than those who do not.

Students who stay at home are not only more vulnerable to the dangers of high risk neighborhoods, but also are distracted by parents and siblings who want them to do all the things they have always done at home—babysit, help in the family store, cook dinner, care for granny. They are less likely to finish college.

But college life requires focus on studies and also time for the other resume building activities offered from internships to leading the campus food drive. In theory, a student should study for 2 hours for every credit hour taken and so that is a lot of time—manageable but only if the student has the freedom to manage it—and get to the library or study spaces whenever needed. This will help to finish college.

The campus is also a place to make new friends and form the new networks that will be professionally and personally worthwhile for years to come. Again, another benefit when you help a child to finish college.

Admittedly not all can go to a residential campus whether for financial or family reasons—returning, more mature students may have spouses or jobs to consider. If the money can be made to work though, it is a better long term investment to finish college and  assure graduation.

But let’s say you can’t swing the residential experience, you can still send your student away.

There are summer research programs and internships to be had. These are incredibly enriching experiences for the student who is doing well and has potential to be a star.

A student with a GPA in the 3.2 and above range (higher in the major ideally) can apply for summer research grants in the sciences especially but in the humanities through some programs. This gives them a much better opportunity to finish college.

Or there are summer internship programs sometimes sponsored by government or corporations or not-for-profits which seek to develop skills and awareness. But some may require travel out of town, out of state or even out of the country.

The benefits are creating and expanding networks that will make a huge difference in graduate and professional school applications later, the chance to really grow and experience new places and people as part of maturing and a prestigious addition to the resume.

We should not stand in the way of our kids taking advantage of the chance to do these things. If a student is offered the opportunity it is a signal that he or she is pretty special and highly regarded.

Study abroad is also a way for the student to really broaden their horizons and prepare to enter a global economy. The road to the CEO’s seat these days usually has a stop in a foreign posting. It may be a chance to visit the land of one’s origins or to be where things began—whether the Italian Renaissance or the Nile Valley or the rainforests of South America.

It cements the learning of a foreign language and gives a whole new world view. I have never had a student come back regretting the experience. They nearly all finish college.

Study abroad is usually done for a semester through the home campus’s own programs or those done in partnership with other schools. However the tuition will typically be the same (sometimes less) and the additional costs may be travel.

Programs are structured and safety concerns are addressed in formal programs. Again it is a resume builder and speaks to a student’s capacity for risk taking and ability to get along with all kinds of people and situations.

There are also the chances to do good by going away. Some campuses have alternative spring breaks where instead of drunken revels in Florida a group travels to places in need of help and care and builds homes or schools or cleans national parks or does other useful and meaningful, sometimes life-changing, work.

These may be a week or two. But again it is a chance to see new things and meet new people and have new experiences that add to the total educational experience and finish college.

Have your student talk to the Career Office, Dean’s office or Student Affairs offices to learn more about how to go away. Start now to plan for applications next year so that courses taken in the fall can be planned with travel in mind. Then open your hands and let them go.

finish collegeMarcia Cantarella Ph.D. is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide ( former Dean at Princeton University and a consultant on higher education, access and success. ( Dr. Cantarella is also our Official Expert on College and How To Finish College at and her work shows how books can change your life and gives advice on how to finish college.