I have spent the past few weeks meeting with college freshmen and their families. This is such a bittersweet time, as first semester freshmen get to come home and relax for a few short weeks. Many of the students are soaring and loving college. Others are having a challenging time.
Helping Your Teen Through the First Semester of College
These are 10 resolutions to help those who came home sad from their first semester.
1. Go through the winter term and/or spring schedules.
Make sure they have a balanced course-load so they are not taking too many hard classes at the same time. Some will be rushing a fraternity or sorority and need an easier load. Others will be coming off of tough falls and need to think of a different way to design their schedules. They should not take two extremely hard classes in one semester. They should work in a light class that fulfills a GE requirement and uses a different part of their brain. They should find ways to make up fall failures now.
2. Find tutors and academic supports now.
If the fall was a challenge, anticipate that the second semester will be the same. Colleges have tutoring centers that provide free support. They also have graduate students willing to tutor for cheap.
3. Research drop and withdraw deadlines.
Remind your child that it is okay to drop a class. It is better to do that than to suffer in a horrible class, as they will end up taking that class again if they do poorly. Also, if they don’t drop or withdraw correctly, grades turn to Fs, and those are hard to undo. So you need to remind them of deadlines and help them work through this process.
4. Encourage them to sign up for a health or sports class.
Yes, you can get units for taking sports and health classes. Students need to exercise and especially those in winter climates need to find ways to be active. Many college kids are much less physically active than high school students, and they need to get those endorphins to feel better. Many have also gained those freshmen fifteen and need to lose those pounds. Please help them find an intramural or club team or even a running group. Colleges offer all kinds of sports from yoga and biking, to sailing and modern dance.
5. Help them set weekly goals.
Freshmen need weekly goals to become happier. The first week, they can find an activity as groups recruit again. The second week, they can find an athletic outlet. The third week, they can go to office hours. If they are rushing a sorority or fraternity, they need to set weekly study goals. It’s time for kids to be proactive, yet you still need to be there. Send them emails, text messages, and all kinds of positive reminders about setting goals. One at a time, though. For example, Martin Luther King Day is coming up and many colleges have service days. That is an awesome way to make friends and do something good for the community.
6. Go visit them in February or have someone you know take them out.
Going back from winter break is challenging, and your students will get lonely. Please go visit them and remind them how well they can do. Check in on their grades and see if they need a tutor or must drop a class now.
[If your teen is more than unhappy, they may be depressed. A therapeutic program may help. Find one today.]
7. Visit other colleges during spring break.
College spring breaks vary, and this is a great time to visit other colleges if your child is thinking of transferring. They can meet with transfer reps and see what other campuses are like.
8. Help them plan their summers.
The summer after freshman year is a great year to get an internship or a simple job. Many camps invite college students back to be counselors. Students can make up classes or take local community college classes to help with GEs and GPA repair. This summer is not core to planning for graduate school but it’s essential to keep your children busy. If they are planning on transferring, this summer is especially important.
9. Find them counseling support.
Therapy is so essential for helping kids work through college challenges. Home therapists do phone sessions. College campuses have strong counseling resources. Unfortunately, FERPA regulations prevent you from talking with college-based staff, but you can research where your children can go. You can also ask for the form that your child can sign waiving FERPA rights and that grants you access to campus support personnel.
[Search for additional counseling support for your college student.]
10. Remember, it does get better.
Every one of my freshmen makes it through. They usually return to school and find college so much better sophomore year. They work through first loves, repairing GPAs, and finding communities. Others leave and transfer to a new campus.
There is no right or wrong path. Colleges were designed for different patterns. Leaves of absence are fine. Attending a community college is powerful if scheduling is available. Be patient. Be strong. Be as proactive as possible.