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Transitioning to College

It is hard to believe that the summer is quickly coming to a close. Late August is a time for many families to get ready to say goodbye to their college students who are going ...

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It is hard to believe that the summer is quickly coming to a close. Late August is a time for many families to get ready to say goodbye to their college students who are going away for the first time. If it is a family's first time, it can be very traumatic.

The easy part is getting ready. Your son or daughter may not appreciate your attentiveness in this regard. Too often first year college students treat going away for their semester like going to summer camp. They make few provisions for living independently, far from home. They usually are not thrilled with their Moms' over protectiveness. However, they honestly don't have a clue as to what living independently is genuinely all about.

If your son or daughter is sharing a dorm suite and has never shared any living space, it can be a rude awakening. For some first year college students, it is even traumatic. Getting used to living with strangers is not an easy task, even on a good day.

The social adjustment of learning how to share and respect another's living space is a great challenge. Another challenge is learning how to budget and manage one's money.

As a parent, it is not a good idea for you to become a money pit or the First National City Bank for your inexperienced college students. Freshmen college students should be on a clearly defined budget. When they overspend, they should do without and learn to economize.

The first year most parents miss their college students tremendously, especially if they are the firstborn and first to leave the nest. We tend to smother and enable our kids with poor choices. For example, if JC is on a budget and spends his transportation money for his first weekend home, maybe he should not come home! That's not being mean, but rather is trying to hold him responsible for his own finances.

As parents, we need to be careful that we do not create a climate that encourages our college student to be too carefree while he or she is away at school. That kind of thinking does not empower students to mature and grow as people.

Another concern is time management. Poor time management is probably the biggest disaster for many first time college students. For many of them, it's their first time away from home without any day-to-day parental supervision.

As parents of first time college students, you need to realize that while your first year student is away, there will be no curfew or any adult telling your son or daughter when to come home, to go to bed or even to study. Many first year students will have upperclassmen and resident hall advisors, who will use the power of suggestion to guide the new and inexperienced freshman in the right way. However, short of a new student committing a crime, no one is going to take them by the hand and tell them what to do.

Colleges and universities work very hard during the fall semester of the student's freshman year to help these new students navigate appropriately and find their way as they attempt to integrate into college campus life.

Student government and other student organizations attempt to help incoming freshmen socially integrate into campus life. Herein lays the potential problem. Finding the balance between social and being attentive students - that is the real challenge set before every freshman. That potential lack of balance can be very costly, both financially and academically.

Most colleges and universities report that at the end of the first semester between five and eight percent of every freshmen class either drops out or is placed on academic probation because of poor academic performance.

College Administrators could probably do a better job of working with first semester freshmen and helping them to succeed, rather than unconsciously setting them up for failure.

Residential college life is a phenomenal opportunity. A student is afforded many opportunities to grow socially, emotionally and academically. These should be the best years of a young person's life.

However, it is probably among the most challenging chapters of a young person's life. First semester freshmen will not have many people telling them not to stay out all night on the weekends. The tendency to cut class is almost contagious for freshmen (even though it's a waste of good money). It is epidemic because no one is going to tell Mommy that her little boy or girl is cutting. The professor, more often than not, will probably say nothing and may not even take attendance.

Some schools have a midterm report. If your grades are less than "C," the report is sent directly to the student and not to the parent. With our new privacy laws, you have a better chance of getting an audience with the Pope, than getting any kind of concrete information about your son or daughter's academic progress.

For freshmen parents, if you are concerned that your son or daughter might have a problem finding the right balance, have your son or daughter sign a statement giving the school permission to give you access to your son or daughter's mid-semester report. Most schools won't advertise this option. Probably, most college freshmen won't like it either. However, if you are paying your son or daughter's tuition through co-signed loans and/or cash, I think you have the right to know.

What you do with that information is another story. Be cautious and try not to preach or become overbearing. Try to be supportive and encouraging. If your son or daughter is struggling academically, encourage them to seek academic assistance. Most freshmen have an academic advisor who will help him or her. Most colleges have academic centers set up to help students who are struggling with their course work.

Any life transition is a challenge. Often the transition from high school life to college life is more unsettling than many college students are prepared for. For students who grew up in small towns and went to small high schools, the adjustment to a large college campus is often very stressful. As parents, we want to be attentive to those concerns and nurture our kids to take care of themselves - to eat well, to get enough sleep, to be social but to try to keep everything in balance.

If for some reason your son or daughter is having a hard time with that balance, he or she should not be afraid to reach out to his or her college advisor and/or the campus counseling center. Most colleges will make all incoming freshmen and their parents aware of all of their support services and will help students to feel comfortable accessing them if and when they need them.

As we prepare to send our freshmen students away to school, we want to keep all lines of communication open. We have to work on letting go of our need to control our children's lives. Letting go of control does not mean not giving advice or sharing concerns, whether they are sought after or not!

Encourage them to write and call regularly, but be prepared that they might not. Try not to take it personally. Continue to remind them that they should. Before they leave, be sure to have the conversation they will hate! Remind them about positive decision-making; remind them not to be reckless around drugs and alcohol; remind them to always seek to do the right thing in their social lives and of course, hug and kiss them and remind them of how much you love them and will miss them!