Preparing for Freshman Year: What to Expect

Freshman year can be as emotional and challenging for parents as it is for new students. Though it’s fine to go through the full range of difficult feelings, it’s important not to pile them on your new freshman. Knowing what to expect as a parent in that first year of college can help you keep your cool and make the most of this transition for your family.

Follow Their Lead on Communications

Expect communications to become somewhat strained during your child’s first year of college. Depending on their personality type, this could range from overly-dependent phone calls to prolonged periods of silence. Don’t impose your own idea of the appropriate schedule of communications. Step back and wait for your new college student to make the first move and reach out to you instead.

This is an important time for students to reorient themselves to their new surroundings. They’ll need time to fall into a routine and figure out where their relationships fit into that, from communications with siblings to those coveted calls home to parents. Practice patience above all else as you both adjust to college life during freshman year.

Keep Your Cool with Quick Calls

It’s tempting to urge your new student to stay on the phone when he or she finally reaches out and calls, but expect quick calls to be the norm. Get comfortable with a few brief sentences and don’t stay on hoping for more details.

Your student may even prefer to ditch the calls altogether and text instead. This allows for more privacy when they’re in a crowded room, and might make it easier to get those bite-size bits of information you crave.

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Let Them Learn the Hard Lessons

When you hear about challenges or struggles that are taking place at school, resist the urge to offer advice or problem solve, particularly when you’re not asked to do so. Approach this year of college as a spectator sport. Let your child learn lessons the hard way.

Hitting a few bumps in the road doesn’t make you a bad parent. It’s not your job to smooth the path. You taught your student how to navigate the twists and turns. Now’s the time to step back and let them do it.

Discourage Frequent Visits Home

Though you may inwardly rejoice at the opportunity to have your child home on weekends, it’s important to fight the tendency to fall into old routines. If your student is struggling at college, he or she may want to come home as often as possible. This is rarely beneficial in the long run. Encourage your child to stay on campus for at least the first month and for the majority of weekends after that.

Though the first few Fridays might be lonely, they offer a prime opportunity for making friends and getting involved in campus life. A strong level of social engagement increases your child’s chances of succeeding long term in college. Peer relationships are important, and you can’t form them if you’re never around the dorm or campus. Fight the urge to welcome him or her back with open arms, and keep the nest off-limits at first.

Encourage Independent Problem Solving

You’re probably used to having regular opportunities to get involved and lend a helping hand. Now that your student is at college, those chances are few and far between. It’s tempting to overindulge your child when he or she finally does ask for help. However, it’s far better to encourage independent problem solving than to help solve those problems yourself.

If your student is struggling with a class, suggest finding a study group or tutor, but don’t set up the tutoring sessions for him or her. Offer suggestions for finding a health clinic if your child is under the weather, but don’t call the doctor and make the appointment. You can point your child to the right resources, but this is the time to let him or her utilize these themselves.

Keep Your Focus Positive at Home

If you were close with your child when he or she lived at home, expect to feel a certain amount of loss when that partnership is gone. Rather than storing up every last bit of news for your child’s phone calls or visits, find a new outlet. Start spending more time with your friends or get involved in a new group or charity. Build other supportive social relationships for yourself, so you’re not dying to unload on your new college student.

When you get time for a visit with your student, make sure you’re not bogging him or her down with problems at home or your own empty-nester emotions. Provide cheerful updates on what’s happening back home. Simple stories and funny anecdotes are a great way to keep the conversation going, while it’s likely to shut down if you switch modes to interrogating students about their college experience or piling on problems that have arisen in their absence.

Limit Your Other Life Changes

Expect to find some empty holes in your life during your child’s freshman year of college. Resist the urge to fill them overzealously with any major life changes. This isn’t the time to plan a big move or change jobs. Stick to one life transition at a time if you can. The thought of buying a new house might seem exhilarating at first, but it’s likely to leave you feeling more overwhelmed than anything.

Though you may feel a natural temptation to focus on your freshman college student during this time, it’s better to focus on yourself. Pamper yourself with the extra time you have on your hands, and funnel your unfocused energy toward little indulgences such as a weekend trip or afternoon at the spa, rather than a major project that might crush you further down the road.

Expect plenty of new challenges during your student’s first year of college. Though you can’t anticipate all the hurdles you might face, preparing for an onslaught of emotions and changes will make it easier to navigate the transition.