Orientation/ Scheduling classes:
Your child will likely be attending an orientation session at his/her new school (typically in either mid/late June or just before classes begin). Make sure your child realizes the importance of attending orientation and be aware that there may be an additional layer of orientation for those students who will receive academic support. Take advantage of both of these – this is not a transition to be taken lightly and the more support the better.
Ideally, your child will have the opportunity to talk with an adviser and/or a staff member in the Academic Resource Center before registering for classes. It is important to make sure that the classes they pick make sense – both academically to fulfill requirements and in terms of being a good mix (not too many classes at once, for example, with a heavy volume of reading/writing). It’s also a good idea to spread out classes over the entire week with some time in-between classes for students to review notes.
Also, if your student needs accommodations, it may be possible to get advice on which professors are best avoided and which are most open minded.
Some students will also want to consider taking one fewer class the first semester while they adjust to the demands of college (or make sure they have a couple of less rigorous electives in their schedule).
Too much free time:
Believe it or not, one big adjustment for kids is handling all the extra free time they have at college (they spend much less time in class). They may have a hard time scheduling the two-three hours per credit hour that they are supposed to be studying each week, not to mention getting a reasonable amount of sleep, eating a few healthy things on occasion and finding a way to exercise.
It‘s a good idea to discuss all these areas early in the summer and help your child become more independent while still living at home. Areas to work on may include having them do their own laundry, make appointments, manage their medications/finances and make healthy lifestyle decisions.
Beginning as early as orientation, your child has an opportunity to make some important connections. For some, of course, this comes easily. For others, it may take some effort. Either way, it is critical that your child reach out to both other students and to a few adults on campus as they get settled into school.
Remember that chances are, this is the biggest life transition that your child has ever experienced – it will require some adjusting. Many kids will feel some homesickness but will plow through it by getting involved on campus and meeting new friends. Others, who may be less outgoing by nature, may be tempted to hang in their rooms and hope they will start to feel more of a connection soon. They may also want to come home frequently on weekends, making it harder to settle in.
For this less gregarious group, encourage your child to find some activity to get involved with and to reach out to other like-minded kids; everyone is looking for new friends in the beginning of the year.
Studies show that students who connect socially are much more successful academically and more apt to stay in school. It’s also important for your child to realize that they are more likely to thrive as a student if they choose friends who are on campus for an education, not just to party!
Access support services:
It’s important during the first few months to listen carefully to your child and to leave time to ask them how they are doing – both emotionally and academically. Some students will benefit by setting up an appointment with counseling services to help get through any anxiety, depression or feelings of being overwhelmed that may surface.
Some degree of these feelings is normal, but it gets problematic if they don’t go away. This is important to be on top of as getting help early can make a difference in whether the student makes it through the semester.
Any student who used academic support in high school should be signed upbefore they arrive on campus to receive support in college. There is also always tutoring and academic help for any student that can be set up as needed. Most students wait too long to get help and then have to dig themselves out of an academic slump. This discussion needs to happen with your child frequently so they remember to use the support services that are covered by their tuition.
Your child needs to understand that no one will seek them out to suggest that they use these services – they have to initiate the help.
Staying in touch:
Depending on your child, there is a lot of variation regarding how often they want to hear from you during those first few months away from home. And frequently, what they consider optimal and what you consider optimal are not aligned.
In any case, you can be sure that you will hear from them when there is a problem with their class schedule, they are not feeling well, or they have run out of money! Otherwise, it is usually best for all concerned if you come to some agreement regarding expectations.
I recommend that you set up a day for a weekly Skype session (free download if not already installed on your computer). The exact timing may need to be flexible week to week, but it’s good if everyone knows that on Sunday evening (or whatever day/time works) – you plan to Skype for a half hour or so. You may choose to text or e-mail briefly in-between if needed, but otherwise it’s good to keep your distance a bit and let your child (and you) have some space to settle in.
Finally, make a note to ask your child to sign HIPPA and FERPA releases once they arrive at school (or a general release of information form). This allows you to have access to information about your child’s health/medical care and grades/school performance. Some families decide to set up an Advance Care Directive for Healthcare and a Durable Power of Attorney before their child leaves home.
It’s a lot to think about and an exciting time. Have a great summer with your graduate!