Thriving in your Freshman Year!
Going to college is exciting, wonderful and abit frightening all at the same time. The transition from high school to college is a challenge for most students, but the move to college can be especially intimidating for expatriate and international students. They are very likely to attend college a continent away from their families and possibly in a place that they have never visited, much less lived before.
Statistics tell us that the transition is not always a smooth one: nearly 25 per cent of students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities leave before the end of their second year1 and many students suffer from a number of issues that negatively impact their academic performance during their college years. Students and their families, therefore, would do well to spend some time thinking about and discussing the expectations and pitfalls of the first year. Keeping an open line of communication between parents and students will provide students with a vital source of support during their college years, and especially during their first few months of transition.
So what does thriving look like versus
surviving, and why does it matter?
A great college education should
do much more for your child than
simply offer them academic knowledge
and a diploma. Students who
thrive in college can also come away
with an impressive set of life skills,
including confidence, independence
and work-life balance, all of which will serve them well long after they have
How your child behaves the first
few months after arrival on campus
can have a significant impact on
the rest of his or her college life. In
addition to having chosen a great
college, your child would do well
to consider the following:
Fresh start: Your child is very
likely entering a college where they know few if any of the other students.
No one knows about past failures or mistakes, therefore students are largely unencumbered (or aided) by their high school pasts and have the freedom to be the fantastic people they have always wanted to be. If your child is looking for a “fresh start,” be sure they address their “past history” on Facebook and other social media that could “follow them” to college.
Self-awareness: Students who are aware of their gifts, strengths and weaknesses are more able to set limits for themselves and seek help when needed. A lack of self-knowledge can have unintended consequences that impair a student’s college experience. Students need to be brutally honest on their housing/roommate preference forms. Most students share a room and find it is not ‘OK’ to live with someone who requires blasting rock music when they study if they themselves need quiet. Also be aware that ticking the ‘allowing friends to sleep over’ box may result in your child having to deal with their roommate’s sexual partners. And colleges are very resistant to changing room assignments once made.
Orientation sessions are opportunities: These sessions are intended to get students familiar with their surroundings, college policies, procedures and resources available to them. The more a student knows about the school, the more comfortable and prepared he or she will be to access all aspects of the wonderful education available to them. Many colleges also offer orientation sessions for parents. These should be attended if at all possible by at least one parent. The more you know about your child’s college and its resources, the better you will be able to support your child should an issue arise.
Academic counselors can be lifesavers: Most colleges and many universities assign each student an academic advisor during the first year. These advisors or counselors are professors or other professional staff who know the school and its systems well. They can provide very useful advice to students and help students successfully navigate university systems that are at times confusing.
Details are important: Students can save themselves a lot of worry and
prevent errors if they carefully read a good portion of the information available to them online. To avoid disappointment, students should pay special attention to prerequisites and enrollment deadlines for desired classes.
Class are hard to make up: The pace and intensity of classes at the college
level are significantly greater than classes in high school. It will be difficult if not impossible for your child to “make up” material missed during lectures. It is a good idea for students to create study partnerships with at least one student in each class so that they can get notes and key points from any classes they may miss due to illness (the only good excuse to miss class).
Strong study habits are vital to academic success: Good study habits involve more than knowing how to take great notes and reviewing them regularly. It also means that the student is sufficiently disciplined to study with no adult direction. In order for most students to perform
well academically, they must set limits for themselves and learn when, where and how long to study on their own.
Getting Involved can be a lifeline:
Students are often much happier when they are actively involved in clubs or organizations where they can meet other students who share their interests. Clubs can be a great way of finding friends and developing a strong sense of belonging in an otherwise unfamiliar or stressful
Organization is key: College life will present your child with many distractions.
The more disciplined and organized your child is the better off he or she will be.
With no one to limit their activities, remind them about assignments or point
out the implications of their behavior, as some students lose track of their priorities.
Students are strongly encouraged to maintain a paper or computer-based
diary and calendar system to help them keep track of assignments and activities.
Saying no is a good thing: There are so many things to do in college in addition
to studying; join clubs, explore interests, party, lie in the sun, play pool and video
games – the list goes on. Students need to consider their personal priorities in
deciding what opportunities that they can or should not say yes to. Instead of
thinking of “no” as a negative, students should think of the word as an important
and possibly grade-saving time management tool. Additionally, learning how to
say “no” is key in assisting your child to avoid some of the potentially dangerous
situations that can occur in college: for example the consumption of alcohol,
experimentation with drugs and unwanted sexual advances.
Balance is what makes the world go round: While grades are important,
they are not the only things that matter in defining a successful college career.
Making friends, getting involved in clubs, doing community service, taking part
in research, internships or study abroad programs and staying fit and healthy
(remember athletic students tend to have higher GPAs than non-fit students) also play a vital role in a student’s
college experience and the success
that comes of it. Being well-rounded
not only results in healthier, happier
more successful students, but also
makes students more interesting
and desirable to employers and
Help is everywhere: While the
move to college is cause for great
excitement, anticipation and hope,
homesickness, performance anxiety,
stress, and loneliness can also
be a part of the college experience.
No matter how happy a student
might be to finally be on their own
and start university, independence
and responsibility takes some getting
used to. While calling mom
and dad can be helpful, students
should also be encouraged to find
appropriate sources for assistance
on campus. Colleges and universities
are well staffed with personnel
who exist solely for the benefit of
students, from academic counselors
and tutors to psychologists and
career services professionals.
Parental involvement: Being
available to your child without micromanaging
them is helpful to the
transition. Don’t call or email your
child every day to ask if they have
attended class or are doing their
homework and laundry. Calling or
emailing occasionally to see how
they are doing emotionally and
academically is within the bounds
of being a supportive (versus nagging)
Sending a child off to college is
one of the most anticipated events
of family life. Highlighting the challenges
they will face is a positive
step parents can take to smooth
their path to success, but ultimately
students themselves will have to
take on the responsibility to carve
out their own new road.
BY TESS ROBINSON
Founding partner, Team Education