Starting college and being exposed to many new challenges and experiences can affect your son or daughter’s social, vocational, and personal choices. It is also a time when they will begin to formalize their identity, which involves a process of questioning and exploration. Realizing that change is a normal part of the developmental process can be helpful.
One of the basic tasks for first-year students is to separate from their parents and homes, regardless of whether they live on campus or with you. All new students will be faced with additional freedom, added responsibilities, greater demands, and more choices. They will also have less structure or guidance than they have had in the past.
Students will need to learn how to make decisions and choices without the structure and guidance once provided by you. While balancing freedom and responsibility can be a challenge for new college students, it is a valuable lesson that will carry them through life. This not only allows them to invest fully in college life but also assists them in acquiring the skills needed later to live independently after they graduate.
Students’ new freedom and responsibility can also place difficult demands on the family. Students who choose to live at home will not have the same time available to them to help with chores around the house, or even financial support.
In their search for greater self-knowledge and clarity about their identity, students must try out new ideas, theories, and experiences to see if they fit with what they already know about themselves. Don’t be surprised if they come home with ideas that are different than those taught at home, with questions on issues that once were taken for granted, or even with a new earring or haircut. Take it in stride. What is important is to keep communication lines open.
While students often start with an idea of what they want to do, what they believe in, and what they like to do, it is always possible that down the road, they will question these certainties. It is not uncommon for students to change their choice of major more than once. Be sure to encourage them to seek career counseling when they struggle with indecision.
All students will make mistakes during their college experience—it is an inevitable part of maturing. Making a mistake can be an important experience and useful to future situations, if one can learn from it. Remind your son or daughter that we all make mistakes and it is necessary to develop skills to handle them and move on. For example, if your student fails a class…it is not the end of the world! CSU has a “replacement” model for repeated classes. The repeated higher grade will replace the effect of the lower grade on GPA.
College is stressful, and the demands on students will at times exceed their resources to cope. Reactions may range from losing sight of priorities and becoming over-involved in social activities to exaggerating responsibilities and withdrawing from social life. Most students achieve a medium between these extremes. However, if your student shows signs of being too involved or too withdrawn, we suggest that you encourage your student to talk with a professional counselor on campus to discuss any concerns.
Many students experience homesickness during their initial adjustment to a new environment—and maybe, periodically, throughout their college years, as pressures mount. Students are more prone to homesickness (a) if they have no experience with living and working away from home, (b) if they are reluctant to initiate social events, (c) if they have hobbies that don’t involve other people—like reading or computer games, and/or (d) if your family is experiencing distress from divorce, illness, financial issues, or other significant stressors.
Homesickness is uncomfortable for both students and parents, and you will worry in a proportion equal to your student’s apparent happiness. However, homesickness is usually transient and will pass. Each bout with homesickness builds the “antibodies” of coping skills to help the next episode be less intense.
CSU Residence Life staff are trained to keep an eye out for signs of homesickness among the resident students. Be encouraged that the staff has a special heart for the emotional struggles that are common place to students entering residential college life. Please know that you are welcome to contact your son or daughter’s Residence Life Coordinator to share your concerns.
On their own for the first time, some students have problems managing money. Sit down with your student to discuss planning a budget. Decide on a plan for dealing with the large issues of paying for tuition and room/board, as well as the smaller ones such as spending money. Your student may be bombarded with offers for credit cards and many students accumulate debt they can’t pay. Don’t assume that money issues will work themselves out. Take charge to initiate this important conversation.