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Helping your homesick college freshman

College student standing, holding a paperFor many new college students, the first few weeks of the college experience can feel so liberating. They often love the sense of independence and the ability to make their own choices about their academics and free time. Then, the exhilaration wears off, and first-year students can sometimes tumble back down to earth and get homesick. Around this time of the semester, students may get the feeling that the college “honeymoon” is over, and reality begins to set in. So what are you to do, as a parent, if the calls and texts from your college student sound negative, sad, or discouraged?

After all of the work (and finances) of helping your student get into college, and the high hopes both of you have about the college experience, a child’s pessimism can be disappointing. Rest assured though, that this experience is common for first-year students. And there are ways you can support your student, from a healthy distance.

  • Be a listening ear: First, start by doing a little probing to find out where the negativity is coming from. Are your student’s classes very difficult or less stimulating than expected? Is your son or daughter finding that the group of friends he or she originally formed have different interests? Is the dining hall food just too awful for words? When you have a better idea of where your child’s emotions are coming from, you can offer support.

  • Provide reassurance: You can also reassure your student about the progress made to date. Remind him or her that going to college is hard work and a huge adjustment. You can also point out the rewards that come at the end of the semester, including earning good grades for hard work, or being able to come home for winter break to sleep and hang out with old friends.

  • Encourage goal-setting: If your child feels discouraged that things aren’t going his or her way, encourage your child to set concrete social or academic goals for the rest of the semester. For example, if your son isn’t hitting it off with the group of friends that he met originally, then his goal may be to join a club to meet people with shared interests. Or, if your daughter is feeling negative about academics, she could set goals related to improving her grades, like visiting professors’ office hours, forming a study group, or finding a tutor who can help with that math course. Once your child has set some goals, you can offer support by periodically asking about his or her progress and by recognizing successes.

  • Find campus resources: There are also some great campus resources that can offer support. For example, if your student lives on campus, you can suggest that he or she speak with the Resident Assistant (RA) or Residence Hall Director. These staff members can offer support and further suggestions on ways to meet people or handle coursework. The learning center on campus is another helpful resource for students who may need help with setting academic goals. Your child can meet with a staff member who can offer advice and information about managing coursework effectively.

There will be ebbs and flows to each semester or term. This experience will be new and challenging to many first-year students and the family members who care about them. But, before you know it, the semester will be over, and your student will have the first semester under his or her belt!

Laurie Hazard and Stephanie CarterLaurie Hazard, Ed.D. is the Assistant Dean for Student Success at Bryant University, and an award-winning expert on how students can make successful transitions from high school to college. She studies and writes about student personality types and classroom success. Stephanie Carter, MA, Director of Bryant University’s Academic Center for Excellence, is a respected leader in the field of student success and learning assistance. She has extensive experience supporting first-year college students in classrooms, residence halls, writing centers, and learning centers. Hazard and Carter’s book, Your Freshman is Off to College: A Month-by-Month Guide to the First Year, provides advice to parents about the high school-to-college transition.

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