In our first guest interview, Lynn and Vicki chat with Dr. Silas Pearman, First Year Coordinator at Curry College. Si discusses various types of first year programming and how students can benefit from classes that help them transition. Topics include questions parents and students should ask during the admission process to find the best fitting first year program, specific challenges first year students typically face, and strategies to help parents prepare their students for the transition. Si shares advice to parents on how to support their college student throughout their first year. Parents are urged to do their homework to evaluate options and find schools with intentional programming for first year students.
A recent 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.
It’s an interesting moment in time. As we send our students off to college, we’re filled with pride at their accomplishments, excited for the future that awaits them, nervous (maybe even downright scared) about their success, celebrating our freedom from the daily caretaking responsibilities, and feeling the emptiness of the hole they are leaving in our daily lives.
In the swirl of student emotions and the sometimes chaotic preparations to move away, we sometimes forget to honor our own feelings – and to embrace the new adventure that awaits us as well as our student.
Take a moment (or two). Breathe. Honor your feelings, but don’t dwell on them. Find for yourself a perspective that allows you to savor this time – and to move into the next moment.
Here are some quotes that may help. Not all of them will resonate with you, but find some that do. Keep them. Come back to them. Find your own new path.
Congratulations on your new role! It’s an exciting adventure.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Over 2500 years later, the only thing that hasn’t changed is the truth of his statement.
As you send your student off to college, the word change takes on a new and very real meaning for your student – and for you. As parents, we may be so focused on the big changes our students will face that we forget (or deny?) that we are experiencing change as well.
Why is change so difficult?
Change is a word we use all of the time, but we may not have thought much about what it actually means. Definitions sometimes give us clarity. To change something is to make it different from what it would be if left alone, to transform or become different.
Change can be hard. It means a lack of certainty and predictability. Change is necessary for growth, but it is normal to fear that we won’t be able to cope with it. So if both you and your student are feeling a little apprehensive right now about what changes might be coming, know that you’re in good company. The first step is acknowledging that change is inevitable, and then you decide how you will respond to it.
Fight or flight – or go with the flow?
Often our first reaction to something that scares us is the fight or flight response. We fight it and try to stop it, or we take flight and try to run away. We may try to prevent change or we may try to avoid or deny that it is happening. Facing change as we send our student off to college is the first step toward making it a positive experience for everyone. Don’t fight it or ignore it. Make sure that you maintain a positive attitude and prepare to go with the flow.
As you and your student navigate your way through the summer before college, you will have many ups and downs. There is much to be done, and tensions may run high at times. It is a summer of excitement and emotion. There are several things that you can do throughout the summer to help to ease the transition to college. However, as the actual move-in day approaches, there are some specific things that you, as a college parent to be, can do to help the move go smoothly.
Preparing for the move to college
- Be informed. Read all of the material that you have received from the college. Don’t be caught off guard at the last minute because you’ve forgotten something urgent. Know college policies. Can your student bring a microwave or refrigerator? Are pets allowed? Can he bring his own bed or mattress? How much extra furniture is allowed? What paperwork will he be expected to bring with him?
- Check specific information about arrival time. Some schools designate a specific time for you to arrive. If they tell you to come at noon, don’t expect to be allowed to move in at 7 a.m.
- If you are a long distance from the college, consider traveling the day before move-in and staying overnight. Early arrival for move-in day is helpful and it can be an exhausting day. It may be easier on everyone if you do your traveling the day before. If you plan to do this, make arrangements early. Local hotels may fill early.
- Help your student make a checklist of everything he needs to pack. Use this checklist as you pack the car. Do the thinking ahead of time when everyone is more relaxed rather than at the last minute.
- Gather all important paperwork in one place and leave it accessible. If your student knows what residence hall he will be in, have that information. If he will need to turn in health forms or financial forms, etc., make sure that they are packed on top.
- Try to help your student not to become overwhelmed. (This means you shouldn’t become overwhelmed!) Take things one step at a time.
- Remember that your student will be able to buy some things once he is at school. It may make sense to wait to see what may be needed or to check with a roommate once he arrives. You may take your student to a local store – or he will go on his own. You can also bring some things next time you come to campus. Chances are, he may not need snow boots or skis until after Family Weekend.
- Be prepared to be “dismissed” by your student. It may be important to him that he prepare and pack on his own. Step back from the process when necessary, but be prepared to help out if asked.
- Be patient with procrastination. Packing may seem overwhelming. And packing makes the whole prospect of college and leaving home finally very real. Many students wait until the last moments to actually pack. Be patient. You are not alone.
The summer before your student heads off to college is exciting, busy, and stressful. There’s lots to do – forms to complete, finances to consider, orientations to attend, shopping to do. Your student may have a job and is also busy trying to spend time with his friends. Communication with your student may have its wonderful moments, and may also be strained. Be prepared. You feel it is your last chance to impart your wisdom, and he is increasingly anxious to be independent.
The process of heading off to college – for both your student and for you – is filled with expectations. However, your expectations and your student’s expectations may not be the same. Use the summer months to talk about those expectations. Clear the air – and avoid difficult situations later when you realize that you, or he, made some assumptions. Good communication now will lay the foundation for quality communication later.
Here are ten conversations to consider before your student leaves for school. Don’t try to cover them all at once, but touch on some of these topics.
What are your student’s reasons for going to college?
This may sound like a strange question. You and your student have spent the last several years working at getting into college. You made the college visits, your student took SAT’s or ACT’s, he planned his high school schedule carefully, you filled out stacks of financial forms, he filled out applications and wrote essays, he waited for those acceptances and wrestled with decisions. But in spite of all of the work you’ve both done to get him here, have you had a conversation with him about why he wants to go to college? Does he have a goal? Is he focused on a major or a job? Is he looking for a social outlet? Is he going primarily for athletics? Is he going to college because it’s the logical next step? There is no right answer, but it helps to know why you’re going and what you want. As you talk about this question, you may learn a lot about him – and he may learn some things about himself.
Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer! We all love them – especially students. Although many soon-to-be or returning college students may be spending much of the summer working hard to earn money, the break from schoolwork and routine is welcome. The problem is that all of that summer “laziness” may create some academic “haziness” when school begins in the fall.
Chances are good that your student worked hard during the school year and deserves a bit of a break. But sometimes a little time spent thinking about school and the upcoming fall semester can give your student an edge in the fall. Skills slide over the summer and a little work can mean that they may slide a little less.
Here are a few suggestions to share with your student to help her stay sharp and get a little head start for the fall. Encourage her to take the initiative and address potential weak areas. Just a few hours can make a big difference.
The transition to becoming a college parent isn’t sudden. You’ve been working on it through all of those months of SAT prep, college visits, essay writing, financial aid discussions, applications, acceptances and rejections, and finally, the DECISION. But as you begin to think about the reality of your new situation, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s begin by thinking about who this new college student is, and what your role in this college experience might be.
Who is this College Student?
This college student is the son or daughter you’ve raised.
First and foremost, this student heading off on this grand and scary adventure called college, is the son or daughter you raised. Although it sometimes feels as though you may not know or understand their behavior, you’ve had many years to instill important values and teach life lessons. Your student will take to college the tool chest of lessons, experiences and values you’ve given them. Trust your student. Trust the years you’ve spent with them and the lessons you’ve taught.
This college student has a clean slate.
There is something wonderful about the adventure of beginning college. Your student is a young person with an opportunity to have a clean slate and build a new life. Many of us might welcome the opportunity to have a fresh start. Your student may have spent many years in the same area, school, or neighborhood. Everyone knows them. Your family may have connections in town, your student may have siblings ahead or behind them, they may be known as an excellent student, an athlete, a loner, or a class leader. There is something safe in this knowledge, but also something restricting.
At college your student will have a fresh start. They will have an opportunity for a re-creation of who they are and who they want to be This can be a wonderful, and an intimidating prospect. There’s no reputation to fall back on, but there’s also no history clouding your student’s opportunities. Some students thrive on the experience of this fresh start and some are taken by surprise. As parents, it is important for us to recognize that this is a stressful time. Encourage your student to take advantage of the clean slate that they will have to invent the self they want to be.
This is the second article by College Parent Central contributor Dr. Lynn Abrahams. Lynn specializes in college transition and success for students with learning differences.
Over the past ten years more and more programs have been created to help prepare and support college students with learning differences. In fact, there are now so many models out there that it has become crucial to do your homework before making the decision about the best post-secondary environment for your student. As a learning disabilities specialist over the past 30 years, I have seen families pay a tremendous amount of money for programs that may not be the right fit, because they did not fully understand what was or was not being offered.
Here are a few issues to keep in mind:
Support in High School
Look at how much support your student is getting in high school. Shifting the amount and type of support when entering a new college environment is not usually a good idea.
- Is your student in a substantially separate classroom?
- Is your student fully mainstreamed in all high school classes?
- Is your student in college preparatory classes?
- How much time does your student get for support in a resource room?
- How much time does your student work with other therapists, such as speech and language, occupational therapy, English language learner support, or counseling?
It’s winter. In many places in the country it’s cold, and it’s dark a lot. The holiday break is over. The novelty of being a new college student has worn off. May, and summer vacation, seem a long way off. And now it’s time to get started with a new semester.
Is it any wonder that your student may have a case of the Second Semester Blues?
If your student is heading back to school but not particularly excited about the prospect, know that she is not alone. There may be mild reluctance (who doesn’t hate the end of vacation?) or there may be serious resistance to returning. Help your student to understand that this feeling is common. There is no instant cure, but it may help your student to know that there are others who feel the same way – and that the feeling usually passes.
Why is your student feeling this way?
There are many reasons students may feel less than enthusiastic about their return to school for second semester, and some students may have multiple reasons.