Surviving Your College Freshman’s First Semester

I heard a dynamic speaker at The Ohio State University orientation who discussed what freshman year is like for parents and their children. I asked if she would share some of that insight with my readers. She agreed. Here is some helpful advice from Ohio State’s former Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience.

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By Mabel G. Freeman, Ph.D.

The following contains excerpts from letters and presentations for parents of new first-year students at The Ohio State University.

As a parent, I recall the anxieties that both our children and we faced as they went through the transition from high school into college. We had continually tried to stay on top of their latest news about college applications, college decisions, the last Homecoming dance, the last swim meet or spring musical and, of course, all of the emotions that accompanied these milestones. Our role as parents had been especially challenged during that pivotal senior year when it became apparent to our children and to us that their lives and our relationships with them would be forever changed as they moved on to college and an unfamiliar landscape.

As a university administrator, I know how much I wish I could promise parents and students that every day will be perfect on their new campuses. But let’s be honest. Some days it will rain when they have forgotten to carry their umbrellas, and I mean that both literally and metaphorically. As parents we want to make everything “right” for our kids, but letting our children go to college means we are letting our children go.

Communications Want to know what is going on with their lives in those first couple of months of college? Of course you do; we all do. And while some parents will get multiple text messages or phone calls every day from their college students, other parents won’t hear from their children for days or even weeks. Most likely the communication patterns were set long before your child stepped foot on campus.

It’s OK to try to establish some “communication expectations” before your child leaves home; maybe Tuesday nights at 7 PM would be a good time for a quick call to just to check in. When children go to college is often when parents learn to text! A simple “how’s it going?” can yield a reply that lets you know he/she is still there. “How did you do on your math exam?” is not always the best way to get a response. Less is more might have to do right now. Your child is busy being a new college student.

Using Campus Resources Colleges and universities are filled with faculty, academic advisors, counselors, upper-class students and other resource people who are all positioned to and very capable of assisting college freshmen through those early transition weeks….if we as parents let them.

Colleges today typically share with parents information about the resources available to their students. It’s important that as parents we encourage our students to take their questions and concerns to those campus experts (rather than bring them to us) so that our students will realize that they can work with campus faculty and staff to do their problem-solving. Becoming more autonomous is part of the pathway for our college-age children’s transition to adulthood.

College Grades How could two professors both assign entire books to be read the same week? Is it “legal” for the college to make me take two exams on the same day? How hard are final exams? All of these may be questions you hear from your new college freshman.

It’s not high school anymore. The pace is faster; the workload is heavier; and Mom and Dad’s expectations are as high as they have always been. It’s time to cut your student just a little slack in that first semester. Remember, at the same time that he or she is trying to get those good grades, they are also learning how to live with a roommate they never knew before September; they are figuring out (hopefully!) how to do their laundry; finding their way around a new campus; learning how not to be homesick.

A lot is going on in that first quarter or semester. When the second term begins, so many of those earlier challenges are gone, and it becomes easier to focus on the academics. Be supportive, be understanding. It’s a new world for both of you.

Our children’s exciting transition into college is a transition for parents as well and may take on some new challenging dimensions for us. Remain calm and remember…you didn’t always have umbrellas handy for some of those rainy days in the first 18 years either!

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