Freshman year is tough.
For most students, it’s the first time they’re away from mom and dad for a significant stretch of time. And these mini-adults are adjusting to everything from roommates and college food to endless exams and stress.
That’s not even factoring in the constant questions that often overshadow them like their own dreary rain cloud: “What do I want to do with my life?” and “Will my degree be enough to help me find a job after college?” No wonder many freshmen don’t make it to their sophomore year — as many as 1 in 3, according to U.S. News & World Report.
“The first year is a very transitional time for students,” advises Susanne Fenske, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs at Clarion University in northwest Pennsylvania. “They are moving away from a known environment to an entirely new place. Their social, emotional and physical surrounding all change in the blink of an eye so their resilience, independence and coping skills are really put to the test.”
That’s not to say students need to tackle all of these challenges on their own. There are steps parents can take to encourage their college freshman to stick with their studies throughout their first year, helping nudge them not just to college success, but into adulthood, too.
Follow their cues on staying in touch.
Bainbridge dad Jack Muzzio figured he’d hear from his daughter, Madeline, age 19, frequently once she started at the University of Cincinnati. To help his daughter venture into newfound independence, he let her take the lead in contacting him. So far, Muzzio, the father of three girls, notes Madeline texts him a couple times a week. “I think you need to follow your child’s personality,” he says. “I tend to give her a lot of space since she really enjoys her space anyway.”
Encourage them to keep an open mind.
“Being close minded at the beginning will close a lot of open doors,” advises Sarah Kersey Otto, director of career development and outreach from Eastern Michigan University. Do your part by modeling positivity. “Do not criticize their university. This will only justify any complaints and make the transition harder.”
Remind them where they’re coming from — and where they’re going.
“I think it’s important for your child to stay grounded,” says Sophia Nail of Solon, whose daughter, Elena, is a sophomore at Ohio State University. “They need to stay connected with their family at home, while also looking forward to life after graduation.” She mentions that her daughter’s advice was for parents to visit their child once during that first year if at all possible.
Consider having them get a job.
This helps students develop their time management skills — and have extra cash. “I told my daughter for the first semester she needed time to acclimate,” mentioned Muzzio. “But for her second semester she’ll be getting a job to help cover college costs.”
Recommend they join a club.
Making connections with others on campus is easier when you have something in common. And colleges are full of clubs where students can meet other like-minded friends, whether first semester or second. Nail points out her daughter made fast friends in British Club and through her church social group.
Talk to them about possibilities, not majors.
There’s a reason why universities often load up students with general education requirements their freshman and sophomore years — it’s so they have time to explore what interests them. “College is all about the journey to discover the person you’re going to become,” Fenske explains. “It’s about figuring out what your strengths are, how you connect with other people, and the impact you’d like to have on the world around you. We don’t expect students to come in as an 18-year-old knowing all that.”