First Semester Angst

Hello College Freshman Parent,

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

In addition to cozy togetherness, there was likely also some tension as everyone struggled to figure out which household rules to still enforce, now that your student has spent time living away from home. That can be challenging!

Also, it may have been a time when your student let you know that they are not as happy at college as they had hoped. Maybe they are struggling academically or feel overwhelmed trying to balance work and play without the structure of high school. They may not have worked to join college activities and make new friends, opting instead to remain in close contact with those from high school. And, of course, there is the ever-present illusion of social media, suggesting that others are fabulously happy! Students at this age often do not realize the effort that may be needed to find their “people,” they expect it to just happen.

These challenges have always been an issue, but colleges have been reporting that new students are arriving at college less prepared – academically, socially, and emotionally – after the pandemic years in high school.

It is important to listen and help your student understand that they are not alone and that these feelings are more widespread than they think. It is also critical to assess if they need to seek mental health intervention if they are really struggling.

It can be helpful to encourage your child to look into additional support if they are struggling academically and to pursue activities on campus if they are unhappy socially. Getting involved in community service can often be a way to appreciate what they have and feel good about helping others. With some effort, things often turn around in the spring.

For the time being, students will want to keep their options open by getting strong grades in their courses. This will give them the option to consider a transfer if they have still not settled in by the end of the academic year. However, struggling academically or socially may not subside if a student transfers to a new school, so it’s important for students to put in renewed efforts to help things improve when they return to school after the winter break.

It is also possible that your student is just not yet ready to be at college. There is no lasting harm in taking a leave of absence for a semester (or longer) to work, get an internship, do a Gap Year experience, take a class at a community college while getting academic support, pursue a mental health program, etc.

Each student is on his or her own timeline. They may be a very strong college student when they are ready, but now might not be that time. Students with ADHD, a learning disability, or who are on the autism spectrum are often several years behind their peers in some areas of development. And all students suffered setbacks in most areas of development during the pandemic years. Students who are currently struggling with significant anxiety or depression are often not able to handle the rigors of college and life away from home for the first time.

(Here are two articles that address the academic and mental health issues that some new college students are facing.)

Take your student’s concerns seriously and help them make a plan for improvements and/or finding more support as they look toward the winter / spring semester. In many cases, you will be hearing a more positive story by the time spring break rolls around.

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