As I write this, we are preparing to take our daughter to college 15 hours away. Apparently, Texas isn’t a big enough state for her to find a university she loved. Our last few weeks have been strategically trying to remember what we haven’t “taught” her to date, which will be life-saving tips…no pressure!
All joking aside, the next few weeks for new college freshmen will hold some of the most important experiences in their lives. I honestly believe there is nothing more exciting than what is in front of them, however, navigating them successfully is an art.
When I began my university career all those years ago, I had a passion for the freshman experience. As an undergraduate at my university, I helped created Rookie Bridge Camp, a 26-year tradition which continues today. In addition, along with a very close colleague at Angelo State, we created Fish Splash, a similar program to help bridge the gap from high school to new college students and although the name has changed, the program still continues.
No matter how much you prepare your young adult for when you turn your back and walk out of their dorm room, even the most self-reliant young person struggles. It’s OK and NORMAL! But here are a few tips to help assimilate faster.
#1: ATTEND Freshman Camps!
You probably saw that one coming based on my passion, but there is literally no other event on campus that focuses on YOU! The purpose of these activities is to put everyone in a group who are in the exact same position…new, probably not knowing anyone. They start with ice breakers to loosen up the group and show it’s okay to be silly. As simple as that may seem, it’s critical. These camps help build traditions which are so important to universities. I often joke because at my daughter’s high school at every single football game, during the school song we put our hands on our hips and pointed towards the sky. The first time this happened, my husband and I looked at each other completely confused. We literally spent her entire 4 years asking everyone WHAT we were pointing at? No one ever was able to answer the question. “Tradition baton” missed!
For universities, freshman camps hold the key to how students begin their college journey. You make friends, you laugh, you learn and you begin to feel you belong. Do NOT miss these camps, no matter how cool you think you are!
#2: Live on Campus and Embrace Dorm Life
At this point, housing decisions have been made and I hope young adults have the blessing/and curse of living on campus. For some who struggle financially, this may not be an option. While living in close quarters with potential strangers, there is no better character building. Keep your doors open, attend any dorm activities at the beginning, and be the one who knocks on doors saying “Hey!” College dorms have been transformed to make you feel at home. Make the first move and establish relationships.
Not all roommate matches, even if you know each other, are ideal pairings. THE key to success is setting expectations and ground rules. I’ve had parents tell me stories about how their young adult's roommate thought bringing their boyfriend/girlfriend into their space for more than homework was a major issue. Communication is the most important advice I give to young adults when they express concerns about living with someone else. If things can’t be resolved, your Resident Assistant is for there to help. Living with people and learning to deal with conflict is a major part of college life, so begin to master this skill now.
Dorm life really is a blast, so remember, this isn’t forever. I’m still friends with girls who were on my floor so embrace the connections that come from living on campus.
#3: GET INVOLVED
Statistics show students who are involved are more productive, happier and do better in school. College is a time where you literally can do whatever you love or you can start your own club. Intramurals are a great way for those who aren’t going to engage in sports in a formal way to continue to be healthy and active. Greek life is a perfect option for people who want to be part of an established organization. Student activities give everyone an opportunity to be part of planning the fun that happens on campuses while learning leadership skills. No matter what you do, do something! Find “your people” and try different organizations until you find where you want to spend your time. But remember why you are at college!
#4: Hang Out in a High Traffic Area
There always seems to be a place where people must pass to get to classes. This is a great area to plant yourself when you have free time. For my introverts, the thought of making new friends is not high on their list, but this is a great way for you to do absolutely nothing and have the potential for someone to strike up a conversation with you. The goal for all college students should be to work hard to find where you fit. This is absolutely key in the first few weeks of school. This can only be done by heading to the cafeteria, talking to your classmates, going to the gym, and participating in the activities they campus works to provide for you. "Find Your People" and once you get comfortable, find people who are nothing like you!
#5: Walk to Your Classes the Night Before
I don’t care how silly you think this is, do it! Some campuses are enormous and being able to make your way to class on time is going to be a challenge. No one wants to look like the “freshman” glancing at their schedule, looking confused. Grab a friend, head out to check out where your buildings are located, where your classes are and get an idea of how long it’s going to take you to get from point A to point B. This little tip will help you feel confident if nothing else.
#6: Ask for Help
I remember, vividly, the new students who struggled about week 2. The newness has worn off, a bit of homesickness sets in, and the “fun” isn’t so fun anymore. For some, this is the biggest change they have experienced in their lives. For others, they don’t want to admit it but being on their own, although it’s exciting, is hard. College counseling offices are seeing a 30% increase in mental health issues and wait times to get in are higher than they like. There is a lot of research going on to help identify the underlying issue, however, change is stressful, even good stress. At a counseling conference I attended in February, this was a major topic of discussion.
It is never a sign of weakness to get help. College counseling offices are there to help you and specialize in college issues. The goal of every university is to ensure you have a successful in transition, but you need to be proactive and ask for help when things are too much.
#7: Call Your Parents!
I’m selfishly throwing this last one in. All joking aside, I feel strongly towards allowing the young adult to have space. There is a critical time period in the first few weeks where adjustments are being made. We, as parents, have done our jobs to this point and it’s now the young person’s time to fly or fall. It’s the truth. I actually had an admission counselor at a university tell me that a parent asked if they could call her if they wanted to see how their young adult was doing. The admission’s counselor said yes! I took her hand and said “NO! Do not tell parents that!” College is their journey. They are in a safe environment you both decided fit the bill. You agreed to pay for, or help find funding for the university they are attending. They are over 18 and by law an adult. Let them find their rhythm. Give them trust, hold them accountable and sit back and wait. Let them reach out. They will…I promise.
For the young adult, know your parents are worried someone is drugging you by putting something in your drink when you weren’t looking, being attacked as you walk home in the dark to your dorm or who knows WHAT else because our minds can be very creative. Understand for First Generation parents, they’ve never had to do this before, so literally, they have no frame of reference on how to know you are okay. You have to help teach your parents how you like to communicate but just know that a text not responded to makes parents think you are dead in a ditch. It’s a challenging two-way street so meet them in the middle.
I firmly believe more is learned outside of the college classroom. This is where character continues to be built. You learn what’s important to you and how to manage all the demands of life, including FREEDOM! These will, in my opinion, be some of the best years of a young person’s life, I tell my daughter this often. Four years will go quickly so enjoy the experience, have fun, study hard, meet people and my hope for each young adult is you “Proceed with Confidence!”