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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 09/ 2/2010

How to help your child adapt to college life

By Valerie Strauss

This post was written by Psychology Professor Laurie L. Hazard, a scholar of first-year-student transitions at Bryant University in Rhode Island. She serves as director of the university’s Academic Center for Excellence, and is co-author of "Foundations for Learning" (Prentice Hall, 2011). Hazard, who studies and writes about student personality types and classroom success, offers here advice to parents who may be sending their son or daughter off to college for the first time.

By Laurie L. Hazard
Nationwide, droves of former high school students are arriving at colleges and universities to begin their first-year transition. Although some will find this transition to be seamless, most will encounter some difficulty that will need to be resolved by the end of the academic year. Many will be unprepared, and experience a variety of stumbling blocks as they adapt to the academic demands of college or to the challenges and temptations of campus life.

Just because your teen has always been a really good student, don’t assume they’ll make an easy transition to college. This can often be hard for many actively engaged parents to swallow.

Today’s parents are more directly involved in their children’s lives, in their school work, and their daily activities than ever before. Many tend to hover over their children, helping them with homework, and closely monitoring their progress in the classroom and on the playing field. It’s hard for parents to let go of this control. While college is a time for “letting go,” parents can still support their students—from a healthy distance.

Parents should be relieved to know that the majority of campuses now offer transitional programs or courses to help first-years adjust to campus life and the rigorous academic demands they face in college. These programs are designed to cultivate particular habits, attitudes, and behaviors that will contribute to success in college.

Initially, students may not appreciate the purpose of their transition program or course. What parents can do to help is encourage them to fully engage and be ready to operate with a growth-mindset; that is an understanding that college is a place where students will mature intellectually and socially, if they are prepared to embrace particular behaviors and attitudes.

What are the most important messages for parents to pass along to their new college students as they start classes? Here are a few:

Possess Humility: Be modest and respectful. Recognize that you don’t “know it all.” Faculty, administrators, and staff have wisdom to share with you, and they are passionate and excited about it.

Ask For Help: College and university personnel understand that first-years are in the process of a huge transition. They expect you to ask for help, so don’t be shy about doing so. Any successful person will tell you, they ask colleagues, mentors, and friends for help on a daily basis.

Take Risks: The university environment is full of endless new experiences. Whether it is courses, guest lecturers, clubs, organizations, activities or field trips, try something you have never done before. Maybe there is a hidden skill or talent that hasn’t been revealed yet. Get involved.

Be Willing To Change: Most students will find that their high school study habits won’t work to the same extent in a college environment. You will have to develop new skills and strategies to meet the demands of your college level courses. The good news is that most institutions have departments to help you to make these necessary changes. All you need to do is ask.

Form Healthy Relationships: It’s no surprise that making friends during your first semester will be a top priority; however, the kinds of friends you make can have an impact on your success. For example, it’s very easy for procrastinators to attract other procrastinators, and too many students become friends with other students who can, and too often do, aid them in sabotaging their own academic success. You would do well to select your friends carefully, and to look to establish friendships with those who can help you to succeed—not drag you down.

Learn to Manage Your Time and Behavior: Research shows that time management practices are at the heart of being a successful college student. It is not enough to say you will be at the library studying for three hours (managing time). What’s more important is to manage your behavior during those three hours. That is, actually read your textbook as opposed to text messaging, IMing, getting on Facebook, and surfing the net. You may go to the library for three hours, but what are you actually doing when you are there?

Respect Diversity: Chances are you will be living and learning with other students who are very different from you. You may even meet someone from a different country for the first time. Be open to learning about their experiences, customs, and cultures.

Practice Healthy Habits: Take care of yourself. Eat right, be sure to get enough sleep, and exercise. If you get sick in college, it is extremely difficult to catch up on classes and work you may have missed. The volume of material covered and the pace in college is vastly different than in high school. Recovering from missed work can sometimes be nearly impossible.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is the time to urge your new college student to take responsibility.

Tell them: If your first semester of college does not turn out quite like you expected, there is only one place to look: at yourself. The task of learning is yours. It is no longer the role of your high school teachers and parents to be sure you learned what you’re supposed to learn.

In short, this is the time for your son or daughter to learn that the responsibility for their college experience is theirs alone and that, from here on out, it’s what they choose to make of it.


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 2, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Life, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  adapting to college, college freshmen, es a, first-year experience, transition and high school and college  
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Unless you think your child is going to have a serious breakdown I think the best thing to do is to be available via phone and be a cheerleader for them to keep at it.

Freshman year, first semester is stressful but intervening isn't what kids need.

I still remember my son calling and spending all my minutes complaining about how awful everything was. I got on his Facebook page and it's fun of cute messages from girls named Katie and pictures of what looked a lot like fun to me.

I concluded that not ALL of his life was awful and encouraged him to stick with it and talk to professors in classes that weren't going well.

Sometimes the story parents hear isn't quite the whole picture!

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 3, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

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