Prepping Your College Freshman for the Second Semester

Whether a boarder or a commuter, your freshman likely faced a few blips the first semester. 

by Anne Vaccaro Brady

Don’t send your freshman back to college without addressing the issues that tripped her up last semester. Talking through some of the obstacles will give her a better chance at success the second time around.

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Academics, i.e. grades Students usually receive their course grades a week or two after their last final. If you haven’t seen any type of “report card” yet, as the parent, you have the right to ask to take a look.

In college, a student learns in one semester what was typically covered during a year of high school, with most courses requiring more work outside the classroom than in. Even kids used to lots of homework find the workload daunting. College academics focus on personal responsibility—showing up for class, completing assignments on time, knowing when and where to get help, and building on concepts covered in class instead of just spitting back the facts on a test.

When reviewing your freshman’s grades, keep all that in mind because college level work is a big adjustment for many kids. But if your student barely passed his classes, then you need to find out why.

Your student might not have clicked with his psychology professor, but it’s unlikely that all of his instructors were bad. Sometimes freshmen try to tackle more than they can handle, like taking too many time- and work-intensive courses, such as biology and chemistry, in the same semester. Or they don’t realize that it’s harder to get up for an 8:30 AM class in college than it was in high school. Putting off the required reading even for a week or two almost guarantees falling behind. Other freshmen simply “socialize” too much or find their classes weren’t what they expected. This last one leads to our next topic.

Rethinking a major Some kids go into college “undecided” and start with a liberal arts base, while others declare freshman year.

If your student barely passed, or even failed, the prerequisite or core courses for her major, she may need to take a different path. Talk about other choices within the same area of study or the best way for her to explore other majors while earning credits that will count toward a degree. Most important, your freshman needs to meet with her academic adviser and visit the Career Services office once she’s back on campus.

Is it time to transfer? For many reasons, some freshmen don’t like their college. Be patient as you talk about why it’s not working, but don’t settle for “I just don’t like it.”

Unless your freshman is truly miserable, encourage him to finish out the year. It’s common for kids who hated their school the first semester to end up loving it in the second.

In the meantime, help lay the groundwork for a transfer by researching other college options and recommending your freshman visit with his high school guidance counselor before heading back (they’re usually accessible to former students) for suggestions on colleges to consider applying to.

Money management College is a good time to learn financial skills. Make time to review your teen’s bank statements with her.

wallet-moneyIf she overspent or ran out of money before the semester ended (and called home asking for emergency funds) come up with a new plan—like working with a weekly or monthly budget instead of a semester one and teaching her how to manage it.

Push her to use the campus dining services, even if that means walking further to a dining hall to eat better food, or to limit the number of fancy, and expensive, coffee drinks she buys each week.

Staying healthy Plain and simple, college students can’t get sick because it’s too hard to make up missing work.

Preventative measures include getting a flu shot, plus stocking up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and cold and stomach medicine to start.

College students also need to eat somewhat healthy and exercise regularly. Fruits and vegetables can come in the form of juice or a smoothie. Suggest a daytime nap as an alternative to a caffeine fix (yes, they can usually find time for one). Throw in some healthy snacks along with his favorite cookies in your next care package.

Exercise can be as simple as walking to class instead of taking the campus bus, or, for commuter students, parking further back in the lot. Physical activity is a great mood and energy booster and being outside, even on a cold day for a few minutes, helps build immunity and fights the winter blues.

Keeping in touch Calling home more regularly and talking through issues before or as they arise might avert some of the social and academic problems of last semester. On the other hand, remind your freshman it’s time to learn how to work out “minor crises” on her own, like figuring out how to live with an inconsiderate roommate.

Creating a better balance College students all have trouble with balance in the beginning. Maybe yours needs to go out more, or a little less (like only on weekends); or drop the extra hard class this semester for a more manageable one in order to keep a scholarship tied to his GPA.

College is a learning experience. Don’t handhold, but do provide the necessary support and advice to help your freshman have a better second semester.

Share your thoughts on prepping your freshman for the second semester in the comments section below. 

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