As your college student heads off for freshman year, you know that there will be challenges ahead – both for your student and for you. This is a year of transition for everyone. The challenges facing your student will exist in many areas, and you may feel that you will be unable to help them face challenges if you are not there. Your student must do the work of college, but you will provide an important and necessary support system as they cope with this new life.
Some students will find reasonable challenges in many areas of their new life, and some students will find smooth sailing in several areas and massive challenges in other areas. In this article, we consider nine major areas in which many college students encounter challenges during their first semester transition to college. Parents can consider how they can best help their student gain mastery and independence in these areas.
This challenge is anticipated by many, but not all, entering college students. Most students understand that college will be different – and harder – than high school, but many do not realize exactly what those differences will be. College is significantly different from high school. Help your student look at course syllabi, talk to professors, and look carefully at the types of assignments and amount of coursework required. Some of the students who have the most academic difficulty are those students who are taken off guard by the academic differences.
Your college student enters a new social world as they enter college. Each student begins their college career with a clean slate and will need to recreate a new social world. Your student will need to make new friends, negotiate life with a roommate, and once again be at the bottom of the school hierarchy as an entering freshman. Your student will likely feel social pressure to make friends, join groups (official or unofficial), find forms of entertainment, and make decisions about alcohol, drugs, sex, and other social activities. Helping your student anticipate the changes and decisions they will face will help them think carefully about what they value as important.
Challenges Of Responsibility
Your college student will be held accountable for their actions in college – probably more so than in high school. Students are responsible for their choices and their actions. They are responsible for making decisions about studying, eating, socializing, finances, health, and managing their time. It may be a new experience for your student to be held accountable and not be able to turn to parents. You will still be an important source of support and advice to your student, but they will need to assume ultimate responsibility for their actions..
Challenges of Independence
As freshman enter college, they take important steps in independence. Your student may be living a long distance from home. They may have difficulty adjusting to the many changes of being away. Your student will make decisions that you, as parents, will not know about. They will need to manage money, health, day to day existence. For many students, who come from close families, this is a major transition. The more that you can do to encourage your student’s independence, the sooner your student will become comfortable with this independent status.
College students face several physical challenges because their lifestyle changes so dramatically. Your student may face the dreaded “freshman 15” – the weight gain that so many new college students face from college dining and increased snacking and junk food. Many students who were athletes in high school are no longer playing sports and so are not getting exercise. Students are notorious for their lack of sleep. Students who become ill at school must take care of themselves and/or deal with school health clinics for care. Students face decisions about alcohol and drugs. Once again, helping your student anticipate the physical changes they may encounter will help. Encourage your student to think about what they eat, to know how to contact the health center, to continue to get exercise and try to get sleep. Physical challenges are inevitable, but prepared students are better able to confront them.
Time Management Challenges
One of the biggest keys to success in college is time management. College students spend much less time in class and are expected to do much more coursework outside of the classroom. Coursework is often given in larger chunks rather than smaller daily assignments. Students spend less time in structured activities than they did in high school. Many students have on campus or off campus jobs. Help your student think about how they will keep track of obligations and assignments, how to break large assignments into meaningful pieces, how to say “no” to activities when they need to study or sleep. Help your student find a good planner or calendar and use it to keep track of assignments, deadlines, and appointments.
Many students who head off to college have not had to cope with general life skills prior to their freshman year. Help your student understand how to use a credit card responsibly, how to do laundry, how to balance a checkbook, how to budget and shop for food. Buy a good alarm clock. Let your student practice cooking and doing their own laundry before leaving home.
College is expensive – we all know that. Tuition and Room and Board are expensive, but so is daily college life. Students often spend hundreds of dollars each semester on textbooks. Students also need to furnish dorm rooms, snack, eat out, go to movies, shows, concerts, participate in on-campus activities, etc. Help your student think about how they will handle money. Will you send money? If so, how often? Will your student be responsible for expenses? Teach a bit about how to budget. What will happen if your student overdraws their bank account or can’t pay a credit card? Talk to your student about a plan, and try to make financial independence a goal toward which you are both working.
The Challenge of Balance
Perhaps by adding up all of the other challenges which freshmen students face, we realize that success during the freshman year (or any other year) of college relies on achieving a sense of balance. Help your student realize that they will constantly be juggling. Your student will need to be aware and flexible. They must balance academics with social life, the need for sleep with the need for study and/or fun, desires and budget, desire for independence with the need for the security of home, freedom and responsibility.
As college parents, it is easy to feel overwhelmed as we consider the challenges that our students will be facing during their first year of transition. It is important that we arm our students with skills and a positive attitude so that they will be able to overcome challenges and make some thoughtful decisions. The path may not be easy; there will be rocky times throughout the first year, but we can be especially proud of our students as they move forward to face these challenges.