You’ve survived the college admissions process, orientation, move-in day and now your college freshman is securely settling in at college. As a college parent, you are relieved, excited, perhaps a bit sad, and apprehensive all at the same time. Your college student is about to begin what may be the most important six weeks of their college career.
The evidence is mounting, and the information is impressive. What happens during the first six weeks of college may be important in determining a student’s ability to persist and graduate. Many students’ college success can be solidified or thwarted during the first six weeks of freshman year. Several sources suggest that nearly 40% of students who begin college will not complete their education. “A freshman’s most critical transition period occurs during the first two to six weeks.” (Levitz & Noel, 1989)
This is not necessarily what a new college parent wants to hear – especially if you have concerns about how your child will adjust to college. But it is important to remember that the majority of students make the necessary transition and move on to succeed in school.
Why are these first weeks so important?
The first six weeks of college are a crucial time for your student to get acclimated to college and to get into a groove and feel comfortable in their new environment. Your student will need to navigate the transition from high school to college and find ways to get organized, to meet new people, to get involved on campus, to find the support that they need, to cope with the inevitable stresses of college life, possibly to deal with homesickness, and to form new habits and find a new routine for their life. Many colleges recognize these important transitions and institute programs for the first few weeks that address these concerns.
As students attempt to make these necessary transitions, they are faced with some potentially significant challenges that accompany college life. Students must form new social networks and often feel pressure to “fit in.” They must learn to function with more autonomy and independence as they attempt new and often more difficult schoolwork. Students are often faced with new, or at least a greater level of, temptations such as alcohol, drugs, and sex. Time management and self-responsibility are new skills to learn.
What should my college student do?
Students who anticipate the challenges of the first few weeks of college will be better prepared to face them. Students who are prepared to take their frustrations and turn them into actions will be armed to make the most of their experiences. Your student might consider several, or all, of the following suggestions:
- Pay attention to all of the communication coming from your school. Colleges will reach out to students, but students must read e-mails, attend orientation and/or welcome meetings, and act on information that they are given.
- Work at establishing a good relationship with your roommate. A good working/living relationship will not necessarily happen automatically. Communicate, share expectations, and show respect. Think about how to be a good roommate yourself.
- Find a niche in which you feel comfortable. This may be a group of students from class, a club, religious or social group, an athletic team or department. Find your “corner of the campus” in which you feel most comfortable and cultivate it.
- Learn as much as you can about your surroundings – your new home. Spend time wandering campus, exploring a campus center or the library, checking out the local shops or restaurants. Get to know what is around you.
- Investigate all of the support available on campus. Check out tutoring, your residence assistant, your advisor, the counseling center. Know that you are not in this alone.
- Avoid going home. This may be difficult for some students, but you will not connect to campus and to other students if you leave at the first chance that you have. There will be time for visits home and with your high school friends later, but spend the first few weeks getting to know your school and making new friends.
- Take a piece of advice from Eleanor Roosevelt and “do one thing each day that scares you.” Of course, evaluate the risk and make wise choices, but move out of your comfort zone and stretch.
What should parents do?
Sometimes the most difficult thing that parents need to do is to allow their student to find their own way. The first few weeks of college are one of those times when you, as a parent, may feel somewhat helpless. Just when you want to do everything that you can to help your student, you need to hold back. But there are a few things that you can do that will help you help your student to make the adjustment that they need.
- Insist that your student not come home for the first six weeks. This may be one of the hardest things to do, but try to encourage your student to stay on campus and work at creating a new life. Of course, you will need to use your judgment, and it is certainly appropriate for your student to come home for a significant family event, but when possible, staying on campus will help.
- Listen. This may be the most important thing that you can do for your student – and potentially one of the most complex. Listening well isn’t always easy. Your student may need to vent and share feelings and concerns. You will want to jump in with advice. That may be appropriate – or it may be better to just do the listening and ask your student to find their own answers. They may just need to share and be heard.
- Connect with your student through Skype or Facetime if you can. Although texting, e-mails, and phone conversations are good, seeing each other’s faces may help.
- If your student is homesick, and if you are close enough, make a trip and take your student out for part of a day or for dinner. This will allow you to connect and see each other, but your student will not be coming home. They will have the opportunity to show you around the school as well.
- Encourage your student to try to get enough rest. College residence halls are “lively” places, and there may be activity going on late into the night (or early morning). It may take conscious effort on your student’s part to be sure to get enough sleep. It is much easier to manage your life and emotions when you have enough sleep.
- Send care packages and real snail mail. This will definitely make your student’s day.
The first six weeks of college are a crucial time for your student. But both you and your student can take some action to ensure that these are successful weeks that will lay the foundation for a successful college career.