As your student is getting settled into college, they will be experiencing significant change. Socially, they’ve left their friends from home and are trying to form new friendships. The friendships they’ve had from high school will start to look and feel different, even if they are attending the same college. Personally, your student will start to question their beliefs (and yours!) and will begin to develop their own personality separate from the family.
Academically, your student will be challenged to meet deadlines, work in teams, form and voice their own opinions, and think critically. It’s a huge developmental jump, and college faculty and staff may expect to see success immediately. Realistically, it takes time to make these transitions. As parents of college students, you can help in the following ways:
Ask questions that promote thought and discussion:
What is your favorite class this semester? What makes it your favorite?
What class do you think might give you the most challenge? Do you have a plan to get help?
How is your course load this semester? Does it feel like you’ll be able to pass all of your courses?
Are you taking any major courses this semester? If so, how do you like them?
Would you be interested in exploring other majors or minors?
Make sure they have access to the tools and information they need:
Have you met with your academic advisor yet? If so, what have you discussed with your advisor?
If you need to adjust your schedule this semester, what are your options? Do you know when the deadlines are to make any adjustments? (drop/add, drop, withdrawal)
Have you met with any of your professors outside of class?
Do you know where to get help with tutoring, writing, math, etc. if you need it?
Help them look forward and engage in academic planning (with an eye toward flexibility and change):
What courses in your program are you looking forward to the most?
Does your program have course sequences that you have to pay close attention to? (math and science, especially)
Is there anything you’d like to do differently next semester?
How do you plan to use your elective courses? (minors, exploration, internships, required prerequisites)
I also recommend checking with your student to make sure they’re aware of upcoming deadlines and responsibilities:
Add/drop deadline. Usually the first week of classes or so. Students can make changes to their schedule during this period with (usually) no academic or financial penalty. Be careful about dropping below full-time or other credit criteria (athletics, scholarships). Students should consult their advisor before making decisions and taking action.
Withdrawal deadline. This deadline is later in the semester, often past the mid-term mark so that students can make informed decisions. Withdrawing may be a viable alternative to failing, but may negatively impact academic progress and financial aid.
Spring registration. Make sure your student knows when the first possible opportunity is to register. Aim for that! As soon as registration opens, classes fill up and your student has fewer opportunities to register for an ideal schedule. Mark that date and have your student stay up late (if needed) to maximize their chance to get the courses they want. I recommend searching for “academic calendar” on your student’s university/college website.
Please encourage your student to meet with their advisor prior to registration opening. This will give your student a chance to have more time with an advisor (I recommend scheduling an hour) and there will be more appointments available. Once registration opens, it can be very difficult to get an appointment with an advisor, and it may feel rushed due to high student traffic.
Keep in mind, advising and registration are not the same thing. A good advising appointment will give your student the opportunity to talk about their experience in classes, successes they’ve had, and any challenges they may face. They should engage in academic planning, including discussion about the major, possible minors, and other opportunities that will provide them with a well-rounded college experience.
By reinforcing the need to keep track of deadlines, identify requirements and explore options, you can help your student successfully navigate the college experience.
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Dr. Sue Ohrablo (she/her) is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author in the areas of academic advising and student services. She has over 35 years’ experience in higher education, holding positions in advising administration, academic advising, career and personal counseling. Dr. Ohrablo holds a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership as well as degrees in counseling and psychology. She is the author of The Pocket Advisor: A Family Guide to Navigating College, and currently supports students and higher education institutions as the founder of My HigherEd Partner. Connect with Sue via www.myhigheredpartner.com or [email protected]
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.