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Student Life

The First Six Weeks of College

Diane Schwemm

You may have heard that the first six weeks can set the tone for your student’s entire freshman year. There’s truth in that, but it’s important for students and parents not to panic if the start of the year is a bit rough. By understanding what your new college student is experiencing, you'll feel better able to support them as they meet the challenges of freshman year.

They’re the ones going off to college. How do parents fit in?

We are still actively parenting our college freshmen even as we encourage their independence. Being in regular touch with us can help them stay grounded during this time of transition. Don’t send a flurry of texts “just to check in,” but do schedule a weekly phone or video chat (especially if you are not hearing much). Read more about communicating with college students here.

There may be a lot of back and forth messages as they get settled in, and this is natural. They have a lot to share. If you’re on the receiving end of what feels like an excessive amount of texting/calling, consider gently disentangling yourself.

If your student runs up against an obstacle — a problem with a roommate, or with their course schedule — resist the urge to get involved or tell them what to do. Instead, remind them of the great resources available on campus (the residence hall RA, their academic advisor, the tutoring center, etc.).

The Intoxication of Newfound Independence

College is the first time most freshmen have been entirely in charge of their own routine and activities. Your student will make choices every day and night about how to allocate all those blocks of “free” time.

When you check in with them, don’t overlook the obvious. Your student may need tactful reminders to:

  • Eat and sleep on a somewhat regular schedule
  • Enjoy socializing but make sure class attendance and studying always come first
  • Tackle the time management challenge with the help of a planner or calendar (paper or electronic)
  • Find some good study spots on campus (probably not the residence hall)

Academic Adjustments

Even students who took AP/IB classes aren’t always prepared for the ways in which college academics differ from high school. A few things it’s helpful to understand:

  • The bulk of required coursework is done outside of class. It is not “homework” (i.e., repetitive of what was covered in class and/or optional) but instead is essential to the learning that takes place in class.
  • There is a lot, and it needs to be done over the course of hours and days — not right before class. Procrastination isn't compatible with high-quality college work.
  • Your student should read the course syllabus early and often (and print it out to put in the front of their binder/notebook). Everything they need to know about textbooks and required materials, assignments and labs, dates for papers and tests, etc. is located in the syllabus distributed at the beginning of the term. Professors usually don’t explain/post assignments or remind students about deadlines.
  • There is abundant academic support available on campus — your student should be proactive about getting help.

Social Life and Personal Safety and Responsibility

It’s common knowledge a lot of partying goes on during the first few weeks of the year at many schools. In addition, at some universities, fraternity and sorority rush kicks right in.

Ask your freshman about the social scene and the new friends they've made. They may or may not be going to parties and may or may not want to talk to you about it, but you can still check in and make sure they know that you expect them to follow campus rules about alcohol and drugs. Even though they no longer live under your roof, you still care about them being healthy and responsible, which means the conversation about alcohol and drugs needs to be ongoing during college.

On a related topic, you may have heard the first six weeks of college referred to as the “red zone” — a time when young first-year women in particular are at increased risk of sexual assault. By talking to all our students, male and female, about healthy sexual relationships and consent, and responsible partying, we express our concern with their happiness and safety and our trust that they will strive to be respectful members of their college community.

Finding a Place

Your student will find their place but it may take time. A few observations about “fitting in”:

  • Some freshman roommates click right away but for others it takes a while. It’s okay not to be best friends as long as they are considerate of each other and their common space.
  • Are they thinking about going to a choral group or theatre audition, or a club or team meeting? They won’t regret putting themselves out there, so cheer them on. Most groups welcome freshmen and it’s a good way to make friends and accelerate the sense of belonging. Read more about how campus involvement can be key to a great freshman year here.
  • Your student can drop by the Student Union and Career Center — both good places to meet people and find out about fun opportunities for engagement. Campuses tend to have vibrant, welcoming faith communities as well and this might appeal if going to worship or youth group was part of their routine at home.
  • First years living at home may need to work harder to make friends and feel connected. To support your commuter student, encourage them to purchase a partial meal plan, join clubs and organizations, consider on-campus employment or volunteering, and choose small classes and discussion sections when possible.
Diane Schwemm is Senior Editor and Content Manager at CollegiateParent and the mom of three young adult children in their twenties. She lives in Boulder, Colorado and loves books, gardening, hiking and most of all spending time with her new grandson.
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