Information for Parents
College can be a difficult time for students, as well as for parents of students. We would like to help make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are some helpful tips for you and you student.
Adjusting to College: A Guide for New Students and their Parents
The college years are an exciting and stimulating time in the lives of students, a time of significant change for new students and their parents. In addition to preparing for a professional career, students face numerous challenges and opportunities to learn about themselves and the world around them. During this time, students make important life decisions, develop their personal and professional identities, interests and values, and evolve from adolescence to adulthood. This guide is intended to assist new students and their parents' in anticipating, discussing, and successfully navigating their way through the college years.
Even before the first semester begins, it is important for parents and their soon-to-be college students to discuss a variety of topics in order to facilitate this transition. Whether the student will be living in a residence hall or an apartment, or commuting from their parents home, it is helpful to have frank discussions about such issues as:
- Finances (e.g. applying for scholarships and loans; who will be responsible for tuition, room and board, text books, other living expenses; will the student be expected to work part-time). Simpson University's Financial Aid office may be helpful in anticipating costs and seeking various forms of financial assistance.
- Academic expectations
- Communication and visitation Telephone calls, visits to campus, visits home, e-mail; how much information do parents expect regarding course work, social life,etc.
- Social activities
- Transportation Will the student have a bicycle and/or car on campus? How will he or she visit home during the semester?
Students quickly realize that they have entered a world very different from the one they have left behind. While it can be very exciting, fulfilling, and filled with wonderful opportunities, a period of psychological, emotional, social, and academic adjustment is a natural part of this transition. Students are likely to confront many challenges as they arrive and settle into the routine of university life.
- Leaving familiar territory and traditions
- Managing new freedoms and responsibilities
- Changing relationships with parents and family
- More demanding academic requirements and competition
- Registering for classes and choosing a major
- Time management
- Feeling overwhelmed by course work
- Learning to live in a world of differences
Students leave behind family, friends-possibly a boyfriend or girlfriend, familiar places and customs, and familiar rules.
Greater freedom requires greater personal responsibility. In the absence of daily parental oversight, students living in an apartment or residence hall must be fully responsible for waking up and getting to class on time, deciding when to study and when to socialize, when and what to eat, when to come home at night and when to go to bed, managing their money, doing their own laundry, and making daily decisions regarding their academic and social behaviors.
With greater independence and less frequent contact, the parent-child relationship may evolve into an adult-to-adult, rather than adult-to-child, relationship. This creates both challenges and opportunities for relationship growth for students and their parents. At times, it may be helpful for a student to meet with a counselor in the Counseling Center to discuss any feelings or events that may interfere with the adjustment process or satisfactory academic performance.
Students may quickly recognize that they are now competing with other students who all were in the upper half of their high school class. Many college students were able to do well in high school without much effort or study and without developing the learning skills (e.g. note-taking, textbook reading, study skills) necessary to succeed in college. Students who are under-performing may find it very helpful to seek a tutor through individual assistance from other professionals.
It is also the student's responsibility to meet with his or her advisor on a regular basis to determine the courses necessary for the next semester in order to remain in "good standing" and to register appropriately for the following semester's classes. If a student is unsure about a major or career direction, he or she should speak with a career counselor. The majority of students either do not know what major to pursue when they initially enroll in college or they change majors at least once during their college career as they learn more about themselves and their true interests, values, and abilities.
In high school, most students spend nearly 35 hours each week in class. In college, they may spend 12-17 hours in class. Some days, they may not even have any classes. These periods of non-class time during the day (and evening) can easily be spent in a variety of non-academic activities. Many students are not aware of the general guideline that, for every hour of class time, a student should spend approximately two hours studying and completing assignments and projects. In order to perform well academically and also have time for socializing, exercising, and leisure activity, both time management and organizational skills are critical. The Growth and Development Center offers assistance and individual counseling, which address issues of time management, effective decision-making and other personal issues.
Feeling overwhelmed by constant studying for quizzes and exams, reading assignments, completing projects, papers and other responsibilities is not unusual and can lead to procrastination, which only worsens the problem. Some students reveal perfectionistic tendencies (i.e. unrealistically high self-expectations or perceived parental expectations), which further immobilize their efforts, add to their discouragement and impede their effectiveness. Such issues (along with test and performance anxiety) are frequent in a college student population and may be discussed with counselors in the Counseling Center.
Learning to live in a world of diversity of ethnicity, religion, philosophical thoughts and beliefs, interests and values may be one of the most important developments during the college years. Students are confronted with innumerable new ideas in their courses and in their interactions with other students from very different backgrounds. Students, at times, may feel torn between remaining loyal to long-held family beliefs and making decisions based on new information and consistent with their own emerging values and goals.
What Parents Can Do?
- Be involved
- Maintain open communication
- Keep the student informed
- When the student presents a problem or concern
- Facilitate listening and problem-solving
- Recommend that the student seek assistance from campus resources
- Remind the student to maintain balance
- After the first semester
Long before your son or daughter begins school, it is helpful to be involved in his or her college selection process and to attend orientation sessions to familiarize new students and their parents about the requirements, expectations, resources, programs and services available at Simpson University. This involvement demonstrates interest and provides emotional support for the student, who is about to begin an exciting and challenging new chapter in his or her life. It also familiarizes parents with campus resources that are available to assist students with specific concerns or issues that may arise during the college years.
Throughout the college selection process and continuing through his or her years at Simpson University, ongoing communication is very helpful for both the parents and the student. Modern technology certainly has facilitated this, with e-mail and instant messaging allowing timely and frequent contacts regardless of physical distance between parent and child. However, actually hearing each other's voice on a telephone sometimes can be reassuring, and occasional visits (to the school by parents or trips home by the student) offer opportunities to stay in touch and "catch up." Early (and ongoing) discussions about financial arrangements and expectations often are critical. Who will be responsible for tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other living expenses? How much will parents be able to contribute and how much will the student need to contribute? A student's contribution may include scholarships, loans, savings, part-time and summer employment. The Financial Aid office can provide helpful information regarding scholarships and loans, application processes, etc. Career Services and Human Resources may be helpful in locating part-time and summer employment, cooperative education, and internships, etc. Discussions about transportation (will a residential student take a car to campus, who will pay for insurance, gasoline, etc.), frequency of communication (letters, telephone call, e-mail), frequency of visits, and expectations about grades, leisure activities, etc. also are important before and during the early days of the first semester. Throughout the college years, the parent-child relationship can grow into a gratifying adult-adult relationship by communicating to the student that his or her growing intellectual development and independence are valued and that the parent is receptive to new ideas and interested in hearing about the student's growing knowledge base and new perspectives.
Students usually want to remain informed about what is happening with their family and their community and typically appreciate it when parents communicate this information . In fact, students often resent it when parents "protectively" withhold unhappy news (e.g. the death of a grandparent or a family illness) in order not to upset them.
Parents can be most helpful by setting a tone of openness, interest and support. Try to provide reassurance that feeling overwhelmed at times is normal for new students learning to manage academic demands and new personal responsibilities. It is important not to be too critical or immediately forthcoming with solutions. Students want to know that their parents are there for them, but they also want and need to engage in the ongoing struggle to define themselves, to become independent decision-makers, and to learn from their own mistakes. This is an important part of the college growth experience outside of the classroom.
Often, it is most helpful when parents refrain from being too quick to provide or impose solutions. Making decisions for the student deprives him or her of the important developmental task of learning to live independently, learning to trust their own decision-making ability, and learning from their own mistakes. It also communicates a subtle message that the parent lacks confidence in the student's ability to solve problems. Instead, a process known as facilitative listening and summarizing can be very helpful. Listen carefully; ask open-ended questions (i.e. questions requiring more than a "yes" or "no" response) about his or her feelings and perceptions of the situation; summarize your own understanding of the problem or situation and ask if that is accurate; "brainstorm" about possible solutions and then explore the pros and cons of each; encourage the student to choose one of the options on the basis of this rational decision-making process; discuss the necessary actions to carry out the plan; and express confidence in the student's ability to resolve the problem or to overcome an obstacle.
Recommend that the student see a counselor in the Counseling Center about any feelings of anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings or personal concerns that may be interfering with his or her academic achievement or happiness. Encourage the student to contact Learning Services to enhance his or her learning skills, including note-taking strategies, study skills, test-taking strategies, time management skills, etc. Encourage the student to speak with his or her professors regarding course issues, an academic advisor regarding course selections and registration concerns, a Resident Assistant regarding problems in the residence halls, or a career counselor in the Counseling Center to discuss concerns about choosing or changing a major.
While it is important to continue attending classes regularly and keep up with assignments, it is especially important during stressful periods that the student maintain a balance in his or her life, including exercise, relaxation, proper diet, and sufficient sleep.
After the first semester (and again after the first year), it is helpful to review and assess with the student what went well and what might not have been as successful or fulfilling as hoped. Best done within a problem-solving context, this can be a time to measure the distance between expectations and outcomes and to determine new strategies. Students and their parents may have had unrealistic or uninformed expectations prior to the first semester. Now, they have a more informed understanding of the requirements and demands, as well as the opportunities and challenges, of the college experience. With this knowledge and experience, academic, family, social, personal and financial issues can be reevaluated. Were costs under-estimated? Did the student have difficulty with time management or with study skills? Was the student able to locate and utilize campus resources as needed? Might the student need to develop greater self-advocacy skills in order to benefit from available campus resources?
As summer approaches and the first year of school comes to a close, students and parents may reveal very different perspectives with regard to the nine months since college began. For parents, this period of time often has brought little change to their lives in the areas of work, values, and belief systems. Friendships, family relations, and day-to-day activities probably have remained much the same, other than for the physical absence of their college-aged son or daughter. In stark contrast, these nine months have been a period of tremendous change for the student, who left a world of familiar faces and places, and entered a whole new world with new rules, new friends, new responsibilities, new independence and freedom, and exposure to new ideas, beliefs and values. Within the context of the parent's lives, this period has been but a "moment in time." In the context of the student's life, he or she has been challenged by new experiences across many domains of life. These nine months may have brought about the most rapid and significant changes since he or she learned to walk and talk. They have grown personally and intellectually and, likely, have developed a greater sense of independence and self-reliance. It often feels very gratifying for students whose parents recognize and value their growth and individualism, their progress toward adulthood and the efforts they have made to succeed in school. When students plan to spend the summer in their parent's home, it is helpful again to discuss and establish rules and expectations that honor both the student's growing sense of independence and the parent's life style and needs.
Parents Have Feelings Too
- Leaving Home
- Visits and Vacations
- Letting Go
A child's departure always has a major impact on the parent(s) and family left behind. It is a time when families must explore ways to adjust to a new configuration and parents must re-evaluate their own relationships. This task may be especially difficult if the college student is an "only" child or the last child to leave the "nest," or if parents are separated, divorced or widowed. In any event, parents are likely to experience a host of ambivalent feelings, including excitement for their son or daughter, a growing awareness that "things will never be the same," feelings of nostalgia for the "early years," and concerns or anxiety about how their son or daughter will manage on their own, without (as much) parental oversight and in an entirely new setting, with fewer constraints and many challenges and temptations. Parents often begin to reflect on the changes in their own life, such as issues of "empty nest," growing older, relationship with spouse and, perhaps, taking care of elderly parents of their own. When children begin to separate and spend less and less time in their parent's home, it presents an opportunity for parents to experience some new freedoms as well. They may have more time to pursue their own interests, rather than taking their child to music lessons or baseball practice, overseeing homework assignments, or waiting up on Saturday night to see if their child returns safely before curfew. However, with this gain of freedom, there comes the loss of a familiar family life, familiar roles and responsibilities as a mother or father, and changes in the dynamics of the family or the marital relationship.
Especially when a child attends a distant school, visits often are infrequent. But, regardless of the physical distance, the college years typically are a time when students develop greater independence, both emotionally and physically, and their times at home become only brief "visits." For the parents and the student, the other is no longer a daily part of their life. In fact, it is during these years that students often begin to realize that they can "never really go home" (few of their high school friends are there, their families have changed, their communities have changed, etc.) and they begin to experience their college residence hall or apartment as their home.
Vacations often are bittersweet. Along with the joy of being together again, reminiscent of earlier years, there often is a certain sadness in knowing that things will never be the same, that one's child has grown up and has a world of his or her own apart from parents, and that their "child" is only visiting.
The process of "letting go" often is more uncomfortable for parents than for their children, who are in the process of developing new friends and new social and professional relationships and identities. It can be a difficult challenge for parents to find the proper balance between staying connected with their child, remaining important and valued in their lives, being protective, and retaining some influence over their child's life versus encouraging responsible independence and good decision-making through independent and critical thinking, exploration of new ideas, and problem-solving. Students typically want emotional support from their parents, but not unsolicited advice or immediate solutions. It may be particularly uncomfortable and confusing for parents when their student shares new ideas that challenge long-held family beliefs and values. At times it may be difficult for parents to understand how their son or daughter came to entertain beliefs so disparate from their own and they may even feel hurt or betrayed by their child’s path toward independence. It is important to remember that the developmental years marked by late adolescence and early adulthood are one of experimentation, with new beliefs and "trying on" identities to see how they "fit." In this process of becoming an adult, it is not unusual for an individual to make frequent shifts (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) in their feelings, beliefs, and appearance, as well as in the various groups with which they identify.
It is important to acknowledge that the developmental tasks of both the student and the parents may bring significant challenges into their lives. Anticipating these challenges, remaining open to honest communication with the student, talking about your own feelings with the student, as well as with friends, relatives, parents of other college students, or with counselors can be helpful.
Other University Resources
A broad network of resources is available throughout the University community to assist students in adjusting to the personal and academic demands of college. The array of student services offered by the division of Student Development represents a major University investment in the academic, personal and professional success of its students.
Adapted from University of South Florida Counseling Center's web site.