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Adjusting to College Life

Nearly all college freshmen encounter a few surprises as they adjust to college life. Understanding the most common challenges reported by freshmen – and what to do about them -- can make the transition to college life go more smoothly for both students and their parents. Some of the most common freshmen challenges include:

Academics. Even strong students can be blind-sided by college academics. Classes – even in subjects you’ve always aced – are often more demanding than high school classes, and may require new skills and approaches. Unlike high school teachers, college professors won’t check that you’re keeping up with the workload. How to cope: The course syllabus is your best friend; before each class, make sure you’ve completed the reading for that day. Don’t skip classes! If you’re struggling with the course work, get help earlier, rather than later. For parents: If your child seems to be struggling, suggest that he or she talk to the professor during office hours. The college’s tutoring and writing centers can also help students adjust to college academic demands.

Time management. In college, how you spend your time is up to you. That sounds great, until you realize just how hard it can be to balance studying, socializing, and juggling new responsibilities like a job or doing your own laundry. How to cope: Your first three priorities should always be attending classes, study time (allow three hours for every hour you’re in class), and taking care of your health (i.e., sleeping, eating, and exercising). Get a personal planner and block out time for those priorities first, then figure out how much time you have left over for socializing. For parents: Your child won’t tell you how they’re spending all of their time, and that’s OK. While your child will likely make some mistakes with time management, that is part of the college learning experience.

New people. Most freshmen look forward to meeting new people in college, but being surrounded by strangers can also take some adjustment. New friends may have different ideas about behavior and relation-ships than your family and friends back home. Rooming with a stranger (or strangers) can also be a challenge. How to cope: The first few weeks of college are usually a social whirlwind. Don’t stress if you feel you haven’t made the same type of friendships that you had at home. Strong friendships need time to develop. Room-mates don’t always end up being best friends; try to talk out any issues that crop up with your roommate as soon as possible. For parents: Before your child leaves for college, discuss how to stay safe on cam-pus, and where to get help should they en-counter challenging relationship situations.

Homesickness. No matter how excited you are about college, it’s normal to have moments where you miss home, your family, or your friends. Adjusting to a new environment and being surrounded by new people can feel overwhelming at times and make you long for familiarity. How to handle it: When homesickness hits, don’t panic. A phone call to family or friends can help, as can talking to others in your dorm or classes. Chances are you’re not the only person feeling homesick. For parents: Freshman homesickness usually passes quickly. The best way to help is to be there to listen and suggest ways that your child can connect with others on campus.

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