If you are the parent of a college freshman, you may find yourself wrestling with excitement and sadness at their impending departure. You are excited that your child is pursuing an education, but at the same time, there will be a hole at the dinner table. You are anxious about how your freshman will adjust to college life.
If your freshman is headed to a large state university, their first year will most likely be filled with intro classes that include large lectures and discussion sections taught by a teaching assistant like me. It’s easy for them to get lost in the crowd, but their TAs always know their names. We see what’s going on with your kids. I hope that some of the following tips will help you or your college freshman during their adjustment period:
1. Goals are not fixed. I plan my 8-year-old daughter’s life all the time. I think about where she should go to school, what she should do and how I can set her up for success now. I hope that by the time she enters college, I will ease up a bit, because I have witnessed the results of parents who put too much pressure on their kids while they are in college. Many students enter college with an idea of what they want to do, but some have no clue. Regardless, when they understand that it’s okay to change paths, it removes a great deal of pressure so they can concentrate on their classes.
2. Straight As are not the norm. Many average college students spend four years in high school receiving pretty high marks in all of their classes. Being a 4.0 student in high school does not guarantee a 4.0 in college. Although there are always exceptions, typically, only extraordinary students get an A. In my three years as a teaching assistant, at two different large state universities, I have not encountered a professor who does not look at the distribution of grades after a large assignment or exam. The final course grades have been pretty close to a traditional bell curve. In recent years, grade inflation has been a hot topic in higher education, but I have not seen it. I have worked with some professors who have strict cut-off points and others who take a more holistic approach.
3. Your child is an adult, and we treat them as such. As an older teaching assistant in my late 30s, I have to correct myself constantly for referring to my students as “kids.” They are not kids; they are adults. You can help your college freshman adjust by requiring them to own their actions. If they don’t attend class, don’t do the readings, don’t prepare for exams, or don’t turn in acceptable assignments, they will, of course, not receive high marks. This is logical to you and me, but new students sometimes struggle with accepting the consequences for their choices. I have heard stories from many professors about parents emailing them to change their child’s grade. I assure you that nothing good comes from this. When forced to accept a poor grade because of poor choices in their freshman year, many students will get their shit together quickly.
4. Preach safety, not abstinence. No matter what kind of guidance and rules you have given your college freshman about avoiding sex, drugs and alcohol, they will come in contact with all three on a large university campus. Perhaps your child will remain a virgin, never try drugs and not touch a drop of alcohol before they are 21. It is, however, as likely that your child will be screwing like a rabbit, smoking weed, and binge drinking until they pass out. I am not suggesting that you condone this behavior, but I am urging you to accept that your student will most likely participate in one or all of these things at least once during college. Have real discussions with your freshman about alcohol poisoning from binge drinking, drug overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases and date rape.
5. Urge your student to take advantage of available campus resources. When you and your student receive your tuition bill, you will find that you were charged all kinds of extra fees. These fees provide services from recreation, to counseling, to health services, and much more. Your student can find pretty much anything he wants or needs on a large campus. As parents, we want to fix everything for our kids, but urging your student to utilize campus resources gives them the opportunity to develop their problem-solving skills and assert a newfound independence. Students can visit their recreation centers to relieve stress by working out, taking exercise classes and swimming. They can visit the advising office to pick their classes for the next semester. Student health centers provide counseling services for students who need to speak with someone, in addition to nutrition and substance abuse counseling. Similarly, if your student is struggling in the classroom, urge them to visit their professors and TAs during their office hours. We enjoy getting to know our students better and want to help them succeed.