Adjustment to College...

... for students and parents

You’ve probably noticed by now that, as parents, most of the attention in this college process is paid to the student. Most colleges spend a great deal of time orienting students to the campus and its services, but not much time orienting the parents about what to expect this first year in college. Hopefully, the following information will be useful in this regard. We’d like to share some thoughts about what you can expect from your student as he/she starts this year, what you can expect to experience yourself, and finally some ways to deal with both of your experiences.

In addition to all the physical changes in their environment, college students experience a great deal of emotional and developmental changes. This period of late adolescence is typically a time when they spend more time trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life. It is also a time for them to leave the nest, literally and figuratively, and see what life is like on their own. They will likely have periods of self-confidence followed by periods of self-doubt. They will tend to think in a dualistic (all-or-nothing) way, feeling like there’s only one major for them, one partner for them, one right way to do things. They will want your support, but also want to be independent and not need you anymore. You will likely experience a few emotions and behaviors as well. First, you might be concerned about your student’s chances of success at college. It’s normal to feel this way, but it’s important not to convey this to your son or daughter. Secondly, you are going to worry about him/her. Again, while this is normal, sharing this worry with him/her will communicate a lack of trust on your part. Besides, there is no point in worrying about things that may or may not happen—wait until they actually happen! Lastly, you will probably experience a mixture of loneliness and joy…loneliness now that your son or daughter has left the house, and joy for the same reason! Remember that, while this is a major milestone in your son or daughter’s life, it is in your life, too. You have successfully raised an adult, and have given him/her the opportunity to broaden and strengthen knowledge, beliefs, and character. At the same time, however, don’t minimize the sense of loss you might feel in his/her absence.

First of all, let us emphasize that college is a huge transition for most students. This is often the first time they are away from home, the first time they may be sharing living space with someone else, the first time they will be eating “out” for every meal, and the first time they won’t have the same classes every day. In addition, college offers many more opportunities to be involved in athletics, clubs, and other student organizations, and the choices can be somewhat overwhelming. Lastly, your son or daughter may be coming here as a straight “A” student from high school, but may struggle with grades at college. Remember that the typical CSB/SJU student comes from the top 20% of his/her class. While this means that we can offer your son or daughter a strong academic environment, he/she may not feel as smart, or may have to work harder here to get the same kind of grades as in high school. Feeling overwhelmed by the whole college experience is a very normal reaction for first-year students, and it can last from hours to several weeks. It is often accompanied by homesickness, which generally leads to several phone calls, emails, or trips home. Know that this is normal, and also know that this, too, shall pass. Eventually, you may be calling your college student and complaining that you never get calls or visits anymore!

To summarize, here is a list of things your son or daughter will need from you:

  1. Tolerate his/her confusion and mistakes.
  2. Expect, allow, and encourage him/her to make his/her own decisions.
  3. Accept him/her for who he/she is.
  4. Be proud of him/her.

And here is a list of things you might need this next year:

  1. Accept your feelings and allow yourself to grieve the loss of your son or daughter as you let him/her go.
  2. Add something to your life, be it a new hobby or interest, or simply more time with others you care about.
  3. Find someone to give you support in your adjustment.
  4. Indulge yourself—you deserve it!
  5. Be proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished.

We also want to take some time to discuss what to do if you believe that your son or daughter is not adjusting well to college. As we mentioned earlier, the transition period can be as short as a few hours or as long as several weeks. Usually, however, by the middle of the semester, your son or daughter should be settled in and fairly comfortable with college life. If you notice these symptoms in your son or daughter after this time period, they may be a signal that he/she’s having difficulty adjusting: crying frequently, not feeling connected to others on campus, lowered grades, isolation in his/her room, changes in appetite or sleep, or wanting to come home every weekend.

If you are concerned about your son or daughter, tell him/her in a calm, gentle way. Let him/her know that you’ve noticed these emotional and behavioral changes, and encourage him/her to speak to someone on campus about this. The student can talk with his/her RA (Resident Assistant), RD (Resident Director), FR (Faculty Resident) or stop by either the CSB or SJU Counseling and Health Promotion office to set up an appointment to meet with one of the clinicians. Our services are free to students and are completely confidential. We offer individual and couples counseling, and also provide groups/workshops on such topics as stress management, healthy relationships, grief and loss, and other topics of health and wellness. The CSB Counseling and Health Promotion office (363-5605) is located on the lower level of the Academic Services Building #104. The SJU Counseling and Health Promotion office (363-3236)is located at Mary Hall 10.

It is always best for the student to make the decision to come to counseling on his/her own, which is why we generally do not contact your son/daughter on your behalf. If you want someone to check in on your son/daughter to make sure he/she’s okay, the most appropriate person to do that is either an RA or the FR or RD. We hope that this information has been helpful and wish your college student the best of luck during this exciting period of your lives.