Students who are about to head to college have a lot on their minds. They have so many things to look forward to, but they may be dwelling on the things they worry about.
An article by Kelci Lynn Lucier on Thought.com about Conquering 13 Common College Freshmen Fears points out some of the insecurities many new college students feel. We recommend the article as it helps students understand and combat some of the questions that may be in their minds.
We’d like to build on this good article and suggest some additional actions that students can take, as well as consider the parent perspective. Knowing how to talk to your student about their concerns will arm you to help.
Sometimes the best approach to addressing any challenge may be simply doing one thing — taking at least a single small step. It can overcome potential paralysis when students don’t know where to begin.
- I was admitted by accident.
Many students share this fear — that the college made a mistake when they sent that coveted acceptance letter. Remind your student that there are likely students all around them that feel exactly the same way — and that it is a perfectly normal feeling. Reassure them that this was not a mistake.
- My roommate will be awful.
This is also a common fear of entering college students. For many students, this will be the first time that they will be sharing a room (and bathroom) with strangers. Many students assume that their roommate will make their living situation uncomfortable — or even intolerable. Begin by helping your student prepare for living with someone else, and then help them think about how they will be a good roommate. Flipping the perspective can make a difference.
- I won’t make new friends.
Even though students know intellectually that everyone else will need new friends too, it’s natural to worry about fitting in when we’re in new situations. Students know they should reach out to others and get involved on campus, but it isn’t always easy to do — especially if you are an introvert or shy student. Encourage your student to make the effort — but also remind them that those initial friends from the first few weeks (often based on orientation groups or living on the same dorm floor) may change over time — and that it’s normal for some of those first friendships to shift.
- I’m not smart enough.
This is related to the fear that admission to college was a mistake, but this fear may also arise when your student realizes how different college expectations are from high school work. Remind your student that doing difficult things is the way to grow and improve, and encourage your student to seek help when needed.
- I’ll be homesick.
Many students will be homesick — at least a little. It may happen right away or may not hit until later in the semester. Remind your student that although many of those around them may feel the same way, they often won’t admit their feelings to others. Missing home and family is natural — but will be manageable if your student works at making the effort to get know their new home. It’s OK to check in with family more often during these times, but then it’s important to focus on making connections and finding support on campus.
- I’m worried about money.
This is a topic on the minds of many students in the wake of rising college tuition and increasing student loan debt. However, the money concerns that some students have are more immediate. How will I afford my textbooks and fees? Will I be able to afford the ”college lifestyle” of coffee, pizza, activities and travel with my friends? If you haven’t already had a financial talk with your student, take every opportunity to help them learn some financial literacy — how to make a budget, how to pinch their pennies, how to use credit wisely.
- I don’t know how to juggle all my commitments.
Being in charge of your life can be overwhelming. For many students, this is the first time they have had to balance their time — class time, study time, time at a job, time on activities and/or sports, time with friends. Students learn that ”free time” just means time that they need to plan and control. Make sure your student has a good time management system, but also thinks about how to get the things in their plan done.
- I’ve never been on my own before.
Some students are amazingly independent in high school while others may rely more heavily on family for daily support. Being on your own can be downright scary. Remind your student that being on your own doesn’t mean that you are alone. It’s important to build a new support system. Use all of the resources that the college offers — professors, tutoring services, advising, residence assistants.
- I can’t do basic tasks.
Help your student prepare for all of those daily tasks that so many of us take for granted. It’s difficult to handle your schoolwork if you’re worrying about how to take care of yourself. Make sure your student has practiced cooking a few simple meals, done a few loads of laundry, made their own doctor’s appointments, and refilled their own prescriptions. Those life skills can be as important as the necessary academic skills.
- I might gain weight.
Colleges today provide plenty of opportunities for staying fit. Students can make healthy eating choices and use fitness facilities and sports to exercise. Talk to your student about the importance of getting sleep, exercise, and eating wisely.
- I’m intimidated by my professors.
Remind your student that professors are people, too. It may be intimidating to talk to a professor for the first time, but it is worth getting over the hesitation. Take some time to coach your student about how to talk to professors. Getting started is sometimes the most difficult part.
- I want to stay connected to my faith.
Many students may want to continue to actively practice their faith while in college, but others may use this opportunity to take a break. Don’t be alarmed if your student opts to skip regular practice for a while. Do encourage your student to seek opportunities to connect with others who share their faith, but also to find opportunities to learn about others’ backgrounds.
- I don’t know what to do after college.
Your entering freshman doesn’t need to have a concrete plan for a career yet. Not every career is based on a single major, and some majors may lead to multiple careers. If your student is undecided about a major, encourage them to actively explore options. Encourage them to talk to professors, to work with the Career Center to determine their career strengths, to seek internships that will give them experience, and to prepare for the workplace, no matter what that workplace is.
Freshman insecurities and concerns can be many, and as parents, we are often uncomfortable when our students are anxious. College is a time of questioning and exploration. Reassure your student that their concerns are normal, and encourage them to take action to proactively address those concerns. You will both feel better.