First-time college students and their families are often thrilled about getting accepted to college. Finances and maintaining good grades during college are typically some of the challenges that come to mind for most families but, beyond that, the future appears rosy.
Visions of strolling down tree-lined autumn lanes amidst the ringing of clock tower bells fill the minds of optimistic students and family members.
So, while a positive outlook is healthy, it’s also important to be honest about the coming challenges and recognize that most students aren’t prepared for the social, emotional and academic demands of their first year of college.
A study conducted by Harris Poll found that 60% of first year college students in the U.S. feel emotionally unprepared for college, which leads to a higher likelihood of poor academic performance.
This same group in the study of more than 1,500 first-year students rate their overall experience as terrible/poor. And half of the overall group said they feel stressed “all of the time.”
This study and others cited issues of homesickness, anxiety, academic under-preparedness, culture shock, the pressures of work/school balance and even the second guessing of school choice. It seems there’s a lot more to that first year than just walking down those tree-lined lanes.
From an academic standpoint, the work is often harder and more intense than what they’ve experienced up to this point in their academic career. Many high-school superstars are shocked to receive sub-par grades for the first time in their life.
They have left an environment of frequent testing over small amounts of material and are thrust into the realm of the all-or-nothing mid-term and final exams; no one cares if they show up to class and extra credit for homework is no longer a luxury they can fall back on.
Kids who are accustomed to getting by on intelligence alone are surprised but the challenges of more reading, more writing, the need to make an appointment to meet during office hours or the idea of a study group.
To magnify the new challenges, students – also perhaps for the first time in their life – are expected to maintain their own schedules and lead a balanced, healthy lifestyle without a parent imposing the guardrails and accountability that life at home inevitability provides.
Large lecture style classes where more introverted students are intimidated to ask questions or ask for help can cause student’s to disengage from the subject; and many who were the “best and brightest” amongst their peers feel like they’re now just another student.
This new found freedom can prove overwhelming.
Many students struggle with having to advocate for themselves for the first time – their inexperience and lack of practice in making all those seemingly small decisions can lead to some less than ideal outcomes when all is said and done.
Which classes should I take? Where do I turn to get help? Who can I trust to show me how to get around campus? Everyone else is skipping this class, why shouldn’t I? What do I do if my roommate is driving me crazy?
All of this, plus the heightened academic rigors, can increase home-sickness, anxiety and second-guessing about everything from the student’s self-confidence to their choice of college.
As parents, we shouldn’t seek to quell the enthusiasm of our first-year students or add to their anxiety before the year even starts.
But we should take every opportunity to let them make their own decisions and live with the consequences of those choices while we’re still nearby to lend a helping hand and talk through those teachable moments.
Mindset or grit can be fostered and practiced before they head off to college and provide them with a strong foundation upon which to build.
If you’d like to learn more about preparing your student, you can check out my book “Never Pay Retail for College.”