College is almost ready to start, which means it’s time for us to begin our Weekly Messages for First-Year Families, which will be shared in the Daily Deac each week.
Whether this is your first student to go to college or your last, your family will be navigating a new normal from here on out.
As your Deac begins college, their choices and actions are their own; parents and families will serve their students best by moving away from being a day-to-day manager of details in your student’s life, and shifting into a consultant role (never forget, though, that you are still an important influencer and a critical source of love and support for your Deac!) So how can you best help them prepare for the first weeks of school?
Encourage your students to:
Meet other people. Making friends and building a social network takes both time and effort on your student’s part. Encourage your Deac to introduce themselves to their hallmates or suitemates. Knock on doors to say hello, invite people into their room to hang out. Make eye contact and say hello to everyone they pass on the Quad. Once classes begin, students can repeat the introductions process to make connections in their classes.
Meet their residential community supports. Students should also meet their RA (Resident Adviser) in their community. RAs are there as a source of been-there-done-that support and information, and can help students connect to each other. They will also have a Graduate Hall Director (GHD). While it is customary to meet the RA on the first night of school at a large hall meeting, your Deacs can seek out their RAs one-on-one to introduce themselves and get to know their RA better.
Be open. Help your student be open to all the possibilities of college. They could have a roommate, hallmate, or classmate of another religion/race/sexual orientation/physical ability/nationality/political affiliation/music preference, etc. Some of the best growth experiences in college are learning from someone different from you, who has a different perspective. Encourage your Deac to see “difference” as a gift and an opportunity for learning and growth, not a negative.
Leave no person behind. Look for people on their hall or in their classes who might need a friend or might want an invitation – whether it is to lunch, or to drive to the grocery store or to hang out (safely, etc.). Some people are naturally extroverted and it is easy to jump into new activities, others of us are introverts and it might feel better to go somewhere with a friend instead of alone.
Explore every inch of the campus. The first week on campus is a great time to explore. Students should get to know locations of buildings, familiarize themselves with the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, and check out the various campus dining venues and decide what they like best (and go beyond just what is on South campus – try the North Dining Hall, Farrell Hall, or even the Law School commons). The sooner your students feel like they know the campus footprint and where they are going, the more comfortable they will be.
Try new things. A critical way to feel meaningful connection to campus life comes through activities. Joining student organizations immediately broadens a student’s friend network and social calendar. The Student Involvement Fair (which happens within the first two weeks of class) will be a great way for your Deacs to link in to campus clubs, intramurals, religious or service groups, and more. They should find a few/handful of groups to join.
Use good judgment and moderation in all things. This includes diet, exercise, social life, etc. Encourage your student to be balanced and to exercise good judgment. They should be true to themselves and their values. If you haven’t already done so, please talk to your students about your expectations about alcohol and other substances, and personal safety.
How else can you help during their transition?
Understand that there are so many adjustments college students experience. The first week can bring many emotions – excitement, confusion, apprehension, curiosity, exhaustion, homesickness, loneliness.
Many people refer to college as the best four years of their lives. For a lucky few, it may be love at first sight, they find their friend group immediately, and they love their schedule. But for most students, it takes time to love college, find friends, feed good about their classes, and feel like this new place is home. (One very sage upperclass Wake family member said “College is the best 3.5 years of your life. That first semester is hard!”
Know that is NORMAL.
It is likely that you could get a tearful FaceTime/phone call/text/email within the first few weeks of school where your student tells you “Everyone else has…
Already found their friend group (and I feel so LONELY)
Knows their major (and I don’t)
Fits in better/is more popular (and I am not accepted)
Is happy (and I am not; maybe I should transfer)
Is ‘doing college right’ (and I am struggling)
Is getting better grades (but I work so hard!)
Has people to eat lunch/dinner with (and I bring all my food back to my room and eat alone)
In those moments, take a deep breath and don’t panic. Remind your Deac (and yourself!) that the adjustment to college takes time, patience, and effort. Help your student normalize the fact that college is a struggle at first – they are learning a new place and every other new student is experiencing the same emotions and struggles. Adjustment issues are normal and temporary. Your calming voice can help your student gain some needed perspective.
The more actively they put themselves out there – by introducing themselves, inviting people to join them for meals/walks/activities, and joining campus groups – the quicker they are likely to feel at home. Before you – and they – know it, your Deacs will find their footing.
And just remember, new families, I am doing this with my only child too, as he just started at NC State. So I am right there with you in all these emotions, changes and transitions. We’ll get through it together 🙂