December 18, 2014

College Bound: What To Know As They Go

Congratulations! Your son or daughter graduated from high school! Now, the freshman year of college is on your doorstep, and it’s a huge transition for you both. Here’s a few tips to help avoid some of the “freshmen woes.”

Talk To Your Student
“From my perspective, freshman woes connect with where the student is developmentally in terms of identity, independence, intellectual, intimacy and involvement,” says Ellen Thomas, student life director at Hope College in Holland, MI. “Freshmen are thrown into a new situation where they have to establish themselves as individuals within a new community.” They are excited to get away from home and begin their new life, but it isn’t without some reservations and questions. As a parent, talk with your son/daughter about their beliefs and values and how they will fit in with their new-found freedom.

Money is another important issue. Help them develop a budget and discuss expectations with regards to academic performance. You may get a roll-of-the-eyes, but touchy subjects like sex, alcohol and drugs warrant discussion too, says Susan Liebau, director of the Wahtera Center for Student Success at Michigan Technological University. “From a student development standpoint, it is important for students to discover and grow on their own.” However, it is still important for them to know they have support from home if they need it.

Gaining Independence
Even though you’ve been preparing your child for the last 18 years for this day, it may still be difficult to let go. You won’t be there to make sure they are eating right or getting enough sleep. Will they wake up on time for class? “Instill a sense of trust in your child and empower them to tap into resources on campus,” Thomas advises. Handling mundane tasks like laundry, managing money, when to study and what to eat are just some of the daily tasks that will help build and give them a greater sense of confidence and independence. Make sure they know how to do tasks such as laundry and balancing a checkbook. If your child struggles in an area, let him or her know it’s okay to ask for help and encourage them to ask someone in their new community.

Frantic Calls Home
Whether it’s homesickness or frustration with a roommate, you’re likely to be on the receiving end of some rants. Don’t take it personally. “Sometimes a student just needs to vent,” Thomas says, and calling home feels safe. “First, listen and show some empathy, then ask what steps they have taken to resolve the issue,” Thomas suggests. If you are familiar with the college’s resources, encourage them to talk to their resident assistant, academic advisor or counseling center. Let them take the reins to solving their own problem. Tell them you have confidence in their ability to resolve the issue. However, if you have grave concern for their health or safety, then make a call to the college.

Academic Pressure
Most students realize college will involve more study time, but some think the professors will remind them when an assignment is due or be lenient about due dates. Some kids who never struggled academically may fail an exam or assignment. “The freedom is overwhelming for some students who have had very rigid schedules previously,” Liebau says. “It sounds silly, but sometimes they have so much time they can’t seem to get anything done. Finding ways to learn from a variety of people will only support long-term success.” Supplemental instruction or tutoring services are available at most colleges.

Don’t Skip Orientation
Orientation activities aren’t just entertaining—they are helpful in acclimating to college life and accessing the resources available. For example, Hope College offers an orientation program for parents, students and siblings. Michigan Tech offers a week-long orientation program. Encourage your student to take full advantage of orientation activities. (An orientation tip to parents: Even in this day of texting and emails, students still love a good care package from home.)

You may not hear from your student as much as you would like, but take comfort in knowing that you have prepped them for this time in their life.

- Lisa Marie Metzler is a freelance journalist who’s written over 200 articles for magazines such as Healthy & Fit, Positive Thinking, and Families First.