Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
The Importance of Professors and AdvisorsAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
There's a reason so much attention is given to the first year of college. It's a time of tremendous transition for students — and for their families.
When you drop your child off at move-in day, it's nearly impossible to imagine the adult who will walk across the stage at commencement. So much will change in the next four years.
But first, they need to survive freshman year!
It starts the summer before college. As your student begins to shift their identity from high school to college student, you may both realize that this transition is more complex than you anticipated. It’s the beginning of a roller coaster ride.
As your student begins college, everything is new and exciting. Sure, there are some anxious feelings, but it's an adventure — accompanied by a newfound taste of freedom.
Exploring campus, getting to know your roommate, making new friends, and the start of a new life help your student begin to create their college identity.
The first six weeks of college are especially important as students learn the ropes and the school welcomes them and orients them to their new life. There are special events, welcome meetings in the residence halls, information and club fairs — the ice cream truck may even show up at the dorms!
Some students experience homesickness in the first few days or weeks. Parents can remind them that this is normal and encourage them to allow time to adjust.
In spite of this initial nervousness, most students feel positive and successful as they begin their college career.
Just when you breathe a sigh of relief that your student has adjusted, things change. Students who have been comfortable and successful during the first weeks of college may be caught off guard by feelings of self-doubt and unhappiness.
Some students struggle as they discover that college expectations are very different from those in high school, and they may worry about being able to do college level work. It can all seem overwhelming.
This shift often occurs if a student receives their first low or failing grades. For students who have never experienced low grades, this is a shock. They may feel like an imposter — clearly the college made a mistake by admitting them! Reality kicks in for many students at mid-semester as they face their first set of exams.
In addition to unwelcome grades, your student may experience other issues:
This is the time parents may receive THE phone call.
It often comes late at night from a miserable student who is overwhelmed, hates everything about school, and feels they’ve made a huge mistake. This is when you take a breath, encourage your student to do the same, listen a lot, and ask them to try to give it a little more time.
Things will turn around for most students, even if they don’t believe it right now.
Gradually, your student begins to adapt to their new world and the new culture of college. They begin to feel in control again.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Your student feels competent and confident in their ability to handle their life.
Successful first-year students often learn two important lessons during this transitional year:
Your student’s confidence at this stage can come from managing their schedule and knowing how to access services such as a writing center, counseling center, residence assistants, and professors’ office hours.
Your student is managing their life. They’ve got this!
This may be the most unexpected phase for some students. Just when they (and you!) thought they had made their transition, things fall apart – and this time, the problems seem to be more personal.
In the struggle to live into their independence and responsibility, the focus all seems to be on the responsibility, and it can be daunting.
Finally, for most students, things begin to fall into place. This time, it feels more stable.
Your student begins to feel integrated into the new culture of their school. They begin to find real friends, they have a more realistic understanding of how they fit in, they learn from mistakes, and they can handle problems and personal changes with more maturity and confidence.
Your student is engaged and finding their place on campus. They have made it through the first difficult transition to college!
Your student will complete their first year of college with new sources of information and the college knowledge and confidence that prepare them for their sophomore year. They will be ready to move beyond mastering their new environment to clarifying their sense of self and purpose.
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.