The first semester of college is a whirlwind. Residence hall life, classes and professors, freedoms and responsibilities — a month or two in, it’s all still new.
As you keep tabs on your student, remember that it takes all freshmen a while to settle in and for things to “click.” They will all be challenged and they will all make at least a few mistakes.
This is part of the process of adjusting to college life and this is where YOU have a chance to shine. Successful college students are organized and intentional. Can you help your student hone the necessary skills and attitudes? YES, YOU CAN.
Your student can CONQUER FALL SEMESTER with our top 5 campus life hacks (with tips from real students about putting advice into action).
1. SCHEDULE YOUR LIFE.
Time management is the biggest challenge college students face. When they crack this code, they feel better about everything else and enjoy themselves more to boot.
Apps are great but an old-fashioned planner or calendar is also essential — in fact, redundancy helps (they might use an app or Google calendar but also keep track of things on paper).
Advice from well-organized upperclassmen:
- “I put all my academic assignments on my calendar, but I also have sections for chores as well as fun stuff. I put down reminders to call grandparents or write letters. I try to only write down things I can actually accomplish! Sometimes it’s goals for the week, which can feel better than scheduling every minute of the day.”
- “Break down large projects into bite-sized, manageable tasks. Keep your system neat and up-to-date and plan in advance for big assignments — instead of just writing ‘midterm paper due in two weeks,’ schedule times in advance to accomplish smaller tasks like ‘write from 1–3 p.m.’ Spelling it out helps me stay on track.”
If/when your student complains that they “don’t have time” for everything, suggest they keep a time diary for a while and then look for ways to tweak their routine.
2. RULE YOUR SPACE (and your devices).
Although it may seem obvious, you might need to remind your student that, when it’s time to study, they should remove themselves from the social action and go somewhere by themselves. If they socialize at meals, they won’t feel as bad about secluding themselves in the evenings to work.
Successful students talk about making spaces “sacred”:
- “Make rules for yourself about different spaces, and have regular go-to study spots that you associate with studying. Just as it’s not respectful at a movie theater to have your phone out, it’s not respectful to yourself to be texting when you have work to do. You can take regular breaks to get up, stretch your legs, and check your phone (I like to take a five-minute break in between 20-minute segments of distraction-free work, but knowing how you study best is crucial). When you’re in study mode, put the phone in your bag.”
- “I try to keep my dorm room clean and comfortable. This means having morning and bedtime routines. In the morning I go so far as to have a wake-up playlist, where each song is connected with one activity (brushing teeth, getting dressed) and I have to finish the activity before the song ends. It makes my mornings more fun and gets me out the door with time to spare.”
3. STAY IN TOUCH WITH HOME.
As much as you long to hear their voice and see their face, you’re aiming for the Goldilocks zone with this one — not too much contact, and not too little. Checking in regularly lets you observe how they are doing, celebrate their triumphs, and listen and be a sounding board as they work through confusions and frustrations.
To be ready for the variety of conversations you’ll be having, go on the school website and familiarize yourself with campus resources (the writing center, health and counseling services, etc.). Successful students are proactive about getting help. You can help steer your student to the places on campus where they can find what they need.
4. SWEAT. SLEEP.
If your student is on a sports team, or regularly does something like dance or yoga, they may have the first one covered. Otherwise, encourage them to make use of the campus recreation center.
- “I’m an introvert — the gym gives me a place to put in headphones and take a break from socializing.”
- “For me, going to the gym is social. It’s easier to motivate with friends, and friends keep you accountable.”
As for sleep, students suggest putting electronics away at least an hour before bed and writing out tomorrow’s schedule. “Planning the next day in advance helps me get to sleep by acknowledging thoughts of tomorrow on paper, clearing my head, and gives me a starting block for the day when I wake up in the morning.”
5. LET SOME THINGS GO.
“Simplicity is productivity” observed one time-tested student. Encourage your new student to get involved in campus activities but beware of over-commitment.
Want to take a few little things off their plate so they can focus on the big picture?
- Fill a care package with everyday necessities: new toothbrush, bottle of favorite shampoo, extra headphones or phone charger, tea, snacks, etc. You’ll save your student a shopping trip or two.
- A subscription to a campus laundry service makes a great alternative care package. (They should know how to do laundry, of course, but wouldn’t you rather they had the extra time instead?)
Special thanks to Ellie, a sophomore at the University of Denver double majoring in public policy and economics, and Evan, a junior English major at Amherst College, for their contributions to this article.
More support for the families of new college students:
The first six weeks of college
Academic success checklists for students and parents
Best advice for new college parents
“How does your student like college?”
Transition reality check
A day in the life of a college student