My College:

Second Semester Fresh Start

Vicki Nelson

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Your student completed the first semester of college. Congratulations!

Second semester (or winter term, if your student's school is on the quarter system) is an opportunity for a fresh start. Your student can build on their successes from last fall, but they may also need to re-evaluate and readjust based upon lessons learned.

What can I expect as my student heads toward a new semester?

Returning to school after winter break is a very different experience from going to college for the first time. Students bring their newly-acquired wisdom and their mistakes along. There may be less anxiety, since they know what to expect, or anxiety may be high…since they know what to expect!

Be prepared for mixed feelings.

There is less build-up and excitement than there was in the fall, so returning to school may seem a bit of a let-down. Some of the novelty has worn off. Your student understands the realities of college life, so the road ahead may look longer and harder than it did in the fall. This is a more thoughtful return to college.

Your student may be worried about their ability to succeed.

If first semester was less-than-hoped for, your student may be concerned about how to make this next semester better. They may or may not be able to express these worries.

Your student may have confidence that wasn’t there in the fall.

They have confidence in their ability to make friends, to navigate the college community, to get to class, to talk to professors and to do what needs to be done.

Your student may be optimistic about this new beginning.

Just as we are all encouraged by the possibilities of a new year in January, your student may be energized at the prospect of a fresh start.

Start a conversation

It can be difficult, as a parent, to know how to help. If you’re too involved, it feels as though you are not respecting your student’s growth and allowing them to experiment with newfound independence. But stepping back entirely may make you feel as though you’re not doing your part to guide your student.

Second semester is a perfect opportunity for some conversations. Plant a few seeds, offer food for thought, and gently remind your student of your trust and support.

  • Reinforce the opportunities that a fresh start brings: new classes, new professors, perhaps new friends, and new activities. Encourage your student to take advantage of a new perspective.
  • Remind your student of how much they know now that they didn’t in the fall — both about college life and about themselves. Help them find areas of strength and build upon confidence gained.
  • Ask about your student’s goals for this semester. What do they hope the next four months will bring? What will be required to accomplish those goals? Putting goals into words makes them more tangible. Thinking about what will be required to reach those goals will provide your student with a plan of action.

What concrete things can my student do to prepare for a great second semester?

Getting a few tasks out of the way during what’s left of winter break will give your student a running start on spring semester.

  1. Attend to any unfinished business from fall semester. Is your student carrying over any incomplete grades? Is their spring schedule complete? Are there outstanding financial issues?
  2. Create a budget for spring semester. Your student now has a better idea of their day-to-day living expenses. A budget provides a sense of control; they’ll spend less time worrying about finances.
  3. Decide if they will work. Having completed a budget, your student can assess whether or not they need to work. If they intend to get (or continue) a part-time job, you can help them consider how many hours of work a week will be manageable given their other responsibilities as a college student.
  4. Order textbooks now. It's a busy season for textbook companies; ordering online early ensures your student has books at the start of classes, not a week or more into the semester.
  5. Check to see if professors have assigned pre-semester work. If there are any assignments, get them done. Read the first chapter or two in the textbook to get a jump on the class.
  6. Commit to time management. Time management is one of the most important life skills for student success. Take some time now to set up a system (using a print calendar or planner or an app) and start plugging in dates in order to be ready to go on day one.
  7. List specific changes for the new semester. Whether or not fall semester was a good one, some changes can enhance the new term. Make sure that goals are attached to action plans. Will your student try out some new activities — or drop one or two? Will they spend more time studying, or sleeping? What’s the plan to make that happen?

No matter what year your college student is, the new term is a chance for a fresh start, and you can guide them in setting realistic expectations and goals. They’ll be one step closer to maturity and independence. You will be more comfortable taking a step back and watching them grow.

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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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