A Family In Transition- What to Expect

Being a new student at a University is both an exciting and anxious experience. A good analogy is the experience of moving to a new community and a new job at the same time – the community being all the new faces, buildings, rules, and norms of the campus culture, and the job being all the expectations of completing academic coursework toward the degree.

Needless to say, all this instant change and expectation can often result in a “roller coaster” ride of emotion, which both students and family members will experience. Everyone adapts to change differently and at their own pace, so there is no way to summarize fully the norm of the beginning college experience. However, this overview may give you some idea of what to expect in the first year.

The first couple of weeks are very stressful because of the new expectations of the courses. Each faculty member will hand out a course syllabus, which explains all the expectations of the class. After receiving these in each of their classes, a new student can easily feel overwhelmed. It can help to take a deep breath and realize they have a semester to complete this work- it isn’t all due next week.

Also in the first weeks, a student must struggle with the new surroundings. With everything being new, many things feel uncomfortable at first. Getting into a successful routine often involves making some mistakes- which takes time and adds to the already stressful situation of new surroundings. For example, students may get a parking ticket or be late for a class because they misjudged the time needed to get from place to place. Or they may miss a meal because they didn’t know or remember the meal serving times. A few little incidents like this can add up to an upset and aggravated family member. Whether they are calling you from a residence hall, an apartment, or talking to you from home, you may hear about the anxiety they are experiencing.

After the first few weeks, a schedule should start evolving as a routine sets in. The next stressful time is midterms- at about the 8th-9th weeks of the semester. Usually, major tests or projects are due at this time and often seem to occur all at once in every class. For the student who hasn’t prepared up until now they will likely feel a sense of being overwhelmed. In fact, a new student who is prepared may also feel overwhelmed, simply over the performance pressure of completing all that is asked of them.

It’s important to remember the difference in being prepared for classes in college vs. high school. Unlike high school, many college professors do not assign daily homework that the students turn in at the next class period. Students are expected to keep up with the class readings on their own, without additional reminders or prompts from faculty. Also, most students find that the amount of preparation required for college courses is much greater than they experienced with their high school classes. The standard recommendation is that college students should spend, on average, 2-3 hours per week studying for every one hour that they spend in class. For many students, this is a completely new set of expectations, which adds to the pressure that first year students are experiencing.

The end of the Fall semester is another very stressful time, with finals and the big push to finish all required assignments. This pressure coincides with the beginning of the Holiday Season, which in itself can be a source of stress for many people. Students (and other family members) often experience some challenges related to the transition of returning home for the holidays and the winter break. Even students who have been living with family members during fall semester may have developed more independence during their time at school. It can be helpful for parents and students to clarify their expectations on such matters as curfews and family obligations during the first winter break together.

One good way to support a new student is to allow them space and time to come to terms with their new academic expectations. Let your student know that they still have your support through all the changes they’re experiencing. Simply “being there” and being willing to listen and understand can go a long way towards helping new students cope with the adjustment to college. Patience is the key to dealing with any major change. Adapting to change can’t be rushed. Time is the best friend of this adaptation.

An education is a wonderful gift that each of your students will appreciate and benefit from for the rest of their lives. Just like you experienced the first year “roller coaster” with a family member in college, you too will also benefit from the rewards of your student’s accomplishments.

Top Ten Survival List 
For Families Of New College Students

  1. Be prepared for anything – and we do mean anything! If they puzzled you in high school, they may completely baffle you in college. Gear up to expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed.
  2. Know the rules. Each student will get a Student Planner. New students can avoid a lot of problems by knowing the rules, regulations, deadlines, etc. Read up on things like fee due dates, class drop deadlines, grade point average requirements, etc. and be ahead of the game. Don’t nag your student, but gentle reminders can be helpful.
  3. Remember that it’s okay not to know what you want to be when you grow up. It is normal for students to experience some uncertainty about careers, especially with all the new people, ideas, and information they will be exposed to. Students usually make a better decision if they take some time and do some investigating. There are offices on campus to help them in their search.
  4. Keep communication lines open. Continue to fill them in on what is happening within the family. With everything changing around them, it helps when parents are consistent and stable in this time of a student’s life.
  5. Give them plenty of room and trust now. As they make decisions in this time of uncertainty they may fluctuate and have some false starts and reversals in direction. Learning how to make good decisions is one of the important aspects of college.
  6. Stay involved with them. They really need you now, more than they are willing to admit.
  7. Budget. This is a tough one! It is hard for students to know how much money they will need per month for expenses. There are always additional and unexpected expenses, but it is important to come up with some parameters after a couple of months at school. Having money problems only adds to the already stressful environment of college.
  8. Grades – Don’t be surprised if they are initially lower than normal. First semester grades are often a reflection of just how difficult an adjustment college can be.
  9. Know the services available on campus. UMSL is like a small community with many services ready and waiting for most needs a student can present.
  10. Be there for them no matter what. Do everything you can to make them feel secure and loved. It will go a long way in contributing to their success as they adjust to their new home away from home. They won’t forget it.