The answer to the question of what we know about college freshmen is both ”not much” and ”a lot.”
If you have a college freshman, you may often feel as though you don’t know much about him. If he is living away from home, you may feel particularly out of touch with his day-to-day life. And even if he shares some information with you, you may sometimes feel as though you just don’t understand him. As frustrating as this can be at times, this is typical, normal, and probably appropriate.
On the other hand, however, many institutions, organizations, and individuals continue to do research about first year college students and we continue to learn more each year. While this information is general, of course, and compiles averages rather than talking about your individual student, it is helpful for parents to understand some of the norms for first year college students.
Your First College Year Survey (YFYC)
One survey which gathers information about first year students is the Your First College Year Survey developed by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) and the Policy Center on the First Year of College. This survey is administered each year through the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at the University of California, Los Angeles. It is distributed to students at the end of their first year of college. In spring of 2014, the survey was administered to 10,170 students at 47 institutions.
Do you recognize your student in any of the responses? How do you think your student might respond?
Exploration and adjustment in the first year
We know that the transition to college is difficult for many students. Students are bombarded with new information, new expectations, and new experiences. Here is some of what students had to say about these experiences.
- 88% of students say that their experience has exposed them to diverse opinions, cultures and values.
- 90% say they have been inspired to think in new ways.
- 34% have changed their major by the end of their first year of college.
- 32% have changed their expected career choice.
- 37% of students expressed difficulties in developing effective study skills.
- 37% also had difficulties adjusting to the academic demands of college
- 47% of students had difficulty managing their time effectively
Communicating with faculty members
College students spend considerable time interacting with their faculty members. For many students this may be more difficult than it seems, but it is essential to help first-year students succeed academically.
- 86% of students reported that they had approached a professor for advice after class.
- 32% said they had met with a professor in his/her office during office hours.
- 50% of students had enrolled in a first-year seminar specifically designed to connect them with faculty in focused academic inquiry
- 69% said they received advice from faculty about their educational program
- 87% of students said that their faculty members believe in their potential to succeed academically
- 87% also felt that their faculty members empower them to learn
- 83% of first year students said that at least one faculty member has taken an interest in their development. (This percentage varies by type of institution — 91% at private institutions and 82% at public institutions.)
Active and collaborative learning
Engagement in the classroom and with other students is an important part of learning.
- 42% of students reported contributing to class discussions frequently
- 54% of students reported contributing to class discussions occasionally
- 86% of students participated in group projects during class
- 89% participated in group projects outside of class
- 41% said they had studied with other students frequently
- 52% said they had studied with other students occasionally
- 47% of students reported that they had tutored another student
Looking to the future
Although first year students are busy making the transition into college, they are also thinking about and preparing for life after college. Overall, students felt more confident about their skills for critical thinking and problem-solving.
- 59% of students agreed strongly that it is important for them to be thinking about their career path after college
- Only 25% of students felt that they had a clear idea of how to achieve their career goals.
- 61% of women strongly agreed that it is important for them to be thinking about their career path
- 54% of men strongly agreed about the importance of thinking about career path
- 35% of students reported using the services of a college career office
While this post — and the Your First College Year survey — is heavy on statistics, and they can seem impersonal, it may help you, as a parent, to think about how your student might respond to these questions. Looking at the numbers might also help you think about how your student compares to others around him. Talk to your student about some of these questions and help him consider their importance. Turn these numbers into topics of conversation and learn more about your first year college student.