This fall semester will be like no other. For students just beginning their college career, the world looks very different. Some will be beginning college from home, learning remotely. Some will be learning through a hybrid model, partially online and partially in the classroom. Still others will experience a somewhat altered Move-in Day and take up residence in a dorm room to take their courses in a classroom with a professor standing in front of them.
Definitely not your typical freshman experience.
This year, we’re all worried about COVID-19 and its effects on our students. If students will be at home, we worry about isolation and how much they’ll actually be able to learn. If students will be on campus, we worry about how the virus spreads, and whether students will socially distance and remember to wear their masks. We worry about what will happen if the campus has an outbreak or our student gets sick.
Amid all of this worry about the virus, we may overlook all of the usual transition issues that college freshmen might experience.
Ten transition conversations
Here are 10 things to touch on with your student – either before they leave for school or as you talk to them once they are there. And if your student is home this semester, some of these topics matter for them as well. They are transitioning to a new phase of life, too.
- Why college? Take a few minutes to talk to your student about why they are going to college. Helping your student think about their reasons for attending college will help them have purpose and goals. And you may be interested in what you discover as well.
- Homesickness – Missing home is a natural reaction as students get used to their new life at school. But many students don’t realize that others also feel the same way. Help your student understand that these feelings are normal and will usually pass. Help them think about ways to get involved on campus and make friends. (Most schools are working extra hard this fall to create interesting, safe, on-campus activities to keep students entertained and involved.)
- Roommates – If your student has never shared a room with others, adjusting to living with a roommate can be challenging. This may be especially true this year as students may be spending more time than usual in their dorm rooms. Talk to your student about what to expect from their roommate relationship and how they will work at being a good roommate themselves. Some conflict may be inevitable, so spend some time brainstorming reasonable ways to resolve problems.
- Friends – Students often easily make a few friends soon after they arrive on campus. These may be students who live in their dorm or have some of the same classes. However, there is often a natural progression after a few weeks as students realize that these may not be their lifelong friends. Slowly, many students discover others with similar interests and values and make stronger, longer-lasting friendships. But many feel guilty or sad that their initial friendships don’t last. Help your student prepare for this possibility and understand that it is OK when some friendships fade away.
- Time management – One of the keys to success in college is learning to manage your time effectively. Students are much more independent and spend less time in classes than in high school. Your student will need to find a system for keeping track of all that they need to do and create a plan for getting it done. Encourage your student to use a planner – either old-school paper or in digital format – to keep track of assignments, work schedules, and responsibilities.
- Study time – In addition to managing their time, students need to understand that college courses require much more out-of-class study time than in high school. Classes often cover more material at a faster pace and students are expected to keep track of larger assignments. If your student isn’t prepared to spend several hours of study for each class, they may quickly fall behind or become overwhelmed.
- Money – Many students are not prepared to keep track of their day-to-day living expenses. Knowing how much money you have to spend and where your cash is going is another way that your student can feel in control of their life. Help your student learn how to create a simple budget and how to use a credit or debit card responsibly.
- Safety – Most of us have talked to our students about COVID safety. We’ve reminded them to socially distance, wash their hands, wear a mask. But don’t let your student forget standard campus safety measures as well – don’t walk alone late at night, don’t let strangers into your dorm, lock your room door when you are not there. Most campuses are relatively safe places, but common sense is important.
- Resources – One reason that many new college students struggle is that they don’t take advantage of the resources that the college offers. They are afraid to ask for help or to let anyone know that they are struggling. Make sure that your student knows what resources the college has available – Writing Center, Tutoring, Counseling, Health Center. Make sure they reach out when they need support.
- Communication – It’s often hard for new freshmen to talk to professors. Help your student remember that professors want to help students. They have office hours because they like to talk to students. They want to understand when a student is having difficulty in their class. Talk to your student about how to approach a professor and how to prepare for a meeting. Establishing a relationship early is important.
If your student will be doing college from home, determine which transition issues still apply. Although homesickness and campus safety may not apply, many factors will be important for your student as well. And think about what other subjects will help your student start a new phase while still at home.
Opening doors to communication is always a good thing. Keep it casual, but talk to your student about what is going on. Talk about what they are feeling and how they can be proactive to prevent problems. Then step back and enjoy watching your student grow.