The College Experience

It is hard to believe that summer is more than half spent. Colleges are finishing summer session and gearing up for the fall term. Many families are preparing to send their sons or daughters away ...

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It is hard to believe that summer is more than half spent. Colleges are finishing summer session and gearing up for the fall term. Many families are preparing to send their sons or daughters away to college for the first time. In short, they are novices. They are excited, but also petrified. College life has changed so dramatically. The expenses to educate a college student today are off the charts. By the time you are finished paying, whether your college student is on the traditional four year plan or the non-traditional extended, five or six year plan, you could probably buy a small house.

The college experience is challenging and very costly.

A question to be raised: Is the college freshman prepared emotionally, socially and academically for his or her college experience? The answer really depends on his or her parents, his or her previous social experiences and the high school he or she came from.

At this time in history, living on campus is radically different from the time when most parents lived on campus. For many of us, dorm living, with the exception of frat houses, was like living in a convent or a monastery. Prison at times had less rules and less accountability.

However, dorm life today is almost like a free-for-all, depending on the school community you select. Most colleges and universities have extensive handbooks to impress the parents of freshmen. Unfortunately, too often the rules are selectively enforced, which does not help the freshmen. If anything, it sets some new freshmen up for disaster.

Staffing and dorm security should also be of great concern. Parents should know the protocol to contact a resident hall advisor. They should know what measures are in place to protect students, even from their own foolishness.

If there is an alcohol free policy, is it genuinely enforced? Or is it tolerated as long as the dorm drinking parties don't get violent and reckless? These are matters every parent should be concerned about.

College life is a wonderful experience for many young adults. It is an opportunity to spread one's wings, to become a bit more independent and self-reliant. It provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate responsibility and accountability skills.

However, it also provides a formula for human disaster. Unlike high school students, every college student is treated by the college and its' personnel as if they are free, individual adults. Thus, no information short of their demise, if you are listed as next of kin, will be communicated to you without your son or daughter's explicit, written permission.

What does that mean in English? As a norm, you get no information unless your child agrees in writing to that process. Thus, if your son or daughter cuts several classes in a row, you will not be informed. If he or she gets arrested, the school won't notify you. If he or she is drunk day in and day out, no one will formally advise you.

We need to create a partnership between the college, the college student and his or her parents, especially if we are paying the bills. There is something radically wrong with an equation that factors us in to pay the bills, but gives us no say or power.

Empirical data seems to indicate that a growing number of first semester freshmen are going away to school and blowing their first term. For too many, it becomes the endless party that they cannot leave until they are thrown out. By then the damage is done. It is too late to salvage the semester and possibly even their place as a member of the college community.

It should not have to be this way. Parents need to demand more from their children and also from the pricey schools they are sending their children to.

As we cooperatively prepare for our children to go away to school for the first term, we as parents need to assess how mature our children are for this adventure. Does he or she have the skills to survive and even thrive? Can he or she handle the abundant freedom responsibly, even though there is little or no accountability?

If you have social or emotional concerns, you should use your child's senior year and senior summer to address them. We need to engage in conversations around the hard social questions: curfew, drinking, drug use and sex. We cannot micro manage our kids, but we can be very clear as to what our expectations are and what the consequences will be if they are not met.

College should be fun, but not one continuous lost weekend without any parameters or boundaries. As parents, we need to be clear and help our children to impose appropriate structure and discipline in their own lives.

It is hard to be a college freshman. Every organization on campus is attempting to seduce you and convince you that their group and/or product is the best. Too often, you get so lost in all those social choices that you forget why you went away to school in the first place.

One's academic life must be primary. It does not mean you live the life of a prisoner. It means you try to find a balance between one's school life and one's social life. If you realize that your life is out of balance, then seek some assistance. Go to the campus counseling center and ask for support in gaining control of your life. Don't jeopardize your college career because of foolishness.

TK was a scholar and an athlete who went away to a small coed college in New England. He loved this small college community. Although he was brilliant on two fronts, academics and athletics, he was socially out of control. He started to act out as a high school senior. However, he charmed his way out of difficulty every time because he was so well liked. He went away to school with no self-discipline. Everyone thought it was a phase, that once he got to school he would settle down.

He got to school and barely made it through football season. Every weekend, he was in trouble. It didn't really hurt him on the ball field, but it hurt him in class. By the semester's end, he was failing three out of four subjects. His scholarship was revoked and because of his social behavior, he was asked not to return in the spring.

TK was devastated, but he did it to himself. He fell into a deep depression after the holidays. Everyone went back to school and he had to stay home. He continued to self-medicate with excessive use of alcohol.

Finally, after he cracked up his brand new car that he had gotten for high school graduation and realized it would not be replaced, did he begin to own his behavior in his mess.

Only now in early August is he beginning to see the light. He is being held accountable. His charming disposition is not rescuing him anymore. TK was lucky. His recklessness did not hurt anyone but himself. Hopefully he is learning and growing.

It does not have to be this way. We need to better empower seniors to make a positive transition from high school to the real world of college life. Not everyone will get off easy like TK. He can start over and still excel. What about all those who don't get a second chance?