Updated: Aug 16, 2022
Parents of rising college freshmen are likely glowing with pride, and feeling some anxiety, as their teen prepares to leave for college. Whether your freshman is preparing to move into a dorm a few states away or organizing their room at home where they will live during their freshman year, you, as parents, are probably thinking about what advice to give your new college student as this next chapter unfolds. We know. We’ve been there too!
There are probably a lot of things swirling in your freshman’s head right now. So, before dorm drop-off, we wanted to share some tips that may help your freshman get a good start at a fun and successful first year of college!
Last month, U.S. News published an article called Don't Make These 8 Mistakes as a College Freshman (usnews.com). The insights provided are really great, and we wanted to share with you, our readers. But, when talking to your student, rather than spin this advice as “mistakes to avoid,” we, as 2 Black Moms, think you might want to take a positive spin and talk about these topics as ways to enhance their success (both social and academic) in their freshman year.
· Live on, or very near to, campus if you can. Your freshman will only be an undergraduate once and may only live in a dorm once. If your student is living in a freshman dorm, embrace it! The U.S. News article reports that “living on campus increases retention rates and engagement among first-year students.” In addition, for many students, living on campus makes it easier to connect with other undergraduates, reduces the stress of commuting, and resident advisors are readily available at the dorm to offer support to your student. Dorm staff typically arrange for social gatherings for dorm residents. These gatherings promote community and foster relationships among dorm residents usually to their benefit. Living in a dorm may not be possible for many students. The need to live at home, or further away off-campus may be necessitated by particular circumstances. But to the extent that your freshman can, during their first year of college, live on or very near campus, this may help them develop friendships and a connectedness to their new college community. See The Top 5 Benefits of Living on Campus | BestColleges.
· Adjusting to college life will take time. As your freshman starts college, they will be entering a new community with new people and new opportunities. Developing friendships, settling in, and finding their place will take time. Remember, this incoming freshman class experienced months self-isolation due to the COVID pandemic too. Remind your freshman that developing real friendships and finding their comfort zone may not happen in the first week. During this adjustment, black freshmen at predominantly white colleges may find comfort at gatherings and activities sponsored by their college’s affinity groups, such as the Black Student Union and Black sororities and fraternities. There may also be black affinity organizations tied to your student’s anticipated major, such as a black engineering student society, and black pre-law and pre-medical associations. These groups can provide important support during the first year and throughout college. There are also a lot of important political and social issues being publicly debated and important mid-term elections are coming up this fall. Joining a political advocacy group on campus may be a great outlet for your freshman to connect with like-minded peers. Encourage your student to seek out these groups as sources of support and for expanding their network of friends.
· Encourage your freshman to explore student clubs, organizations, or intra-mural sports. Before classes even begin, your student will be deluged with orientation activities. There will be many meetings about signing up for classes, purchasing books and supplies, and managing the meal plan. Just as important, the college will have a “club fair” which is where the college’s student clubs, organizations (including student government), and intramural sports teams will showcase their mission and activities to get students to join their organizations. Encourage your student to attend this fun event! The club fair is a great opportunity to browse around the various tables and meet club leaders to learn more about organizations that your freshman might be interested in joining. This event will help your freshman build connections with the college and develop relationships with students who have similar interests as them. Your freshman may also want to explore new activities that are different from activities in high school. Fair warning, though – caution your freshman not to over-extend themselves with clubs to the detriment of their studies!
· Don’t skip class! High school teachers are generally known to take roll before each class to mark student attendance. Well, in college, especially for large lecture-style classes, the professor will unlikely be taking attendance. And, in many instances for these large-scale classes, grades are determined by lecture notes and reading (and possibly participation in a small group led by a teaching assistant). By mid-semester when your freshman is immersed in all aspects of their new college life, it may be enticing for them to begin skipping their large lecture class. Encourage your freshman not to do that unless, of course, extenuating circumstances warrant missing class. Your freshman should not get in the habit of skipping classes; in doing so they will miss out on important information conveyed by the professor. Just as importantly, they short-change themselves in their own education. Your freshman is there to learn from the professors who are there to teach them. That cannot happen if your student is not in class. Encourage your student to always arrange their schedule and get the rest they need so that they attend their college classes, homework and readings completed, and participate in discussions and/or ask relevant, insightful questions.
· Be mindful of time-management. Your freshman will be deluged with competing commitments, expectations, and invitations for ample social activity. Encourage your freshman to be mindful of these competing interests, and to be sure to keep their academic commitments as the top priority. This means keeping track of deadlines, giving themselves sufficient time to complete assignments and submitting them in a timely fashion, taking time to attend a professor’s office hours to get help or just to chat, and planning for future research and/or projects that align with your freshman’s academic interests and goals. Bottom line, your freshman ideally should strive for a good balance between academics, work/employment, extracurricular activities, and social life. Many colleges publish tips on time-management. You can encourage your freshman to check with their college’s Dean of Students Office for guidance on managing time as a college student.
· Connect with professors. As your freshman settles into their new academic routine, they will benefit from meeting regularly with a professor of a class that they enjoy or in the Department of their prospective major. Developing a healthy, respectful relationship with a professor is important for many reasons. Foremost is the opportunity to discuss and talk through the big issues relevant to the professor’s academic expertise and your student’s academic interests. By getting to know a professor, and doing well in their class, they may offer your freshman an opportunity to serve as a research or teaching assistant, or they may offer to serve as your student’s thesis advisor. The professor may have many colleagues in your freshman’s field of interest, and their willingness to connect your student with experts in their field is invaluable for professional networking and securing internships and jobs after graduation. Just as importantly, the professor can serve as a recommender for your student’s future applications for graduate/professional school, grants, fellowships, and jobs.
Understandably, your student may feel more comfortable connecting with a black professor. But if they are attending a predominantly white college, and depending on their major, there may not be a black professor in the academic Department where your student takes classes. See Black College Students Need Black Professors | NewsOne. But relationships are everything. Building a positive relationship with a professor, particularly one in your student’s major, if possible, is a very important aspect of the college experience that your student can begin in their first year. If your student is having trouble in this area, they should check to see if their college has an Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion that may be able to provide support and assistance.
· Get sleep – all-nighters are not fun and can compromise your well-being. Your freshman may have pulled some all-nighters in high school to get through final exams. In college, the academic pressure will likely increase. For example, if a full-time college student is taking 15 credit hours in a semester, they will spend 15 hours in class and about 30 hours studying and/or completing homework, for a total weekly academic time-commitment of about 45 hours. This may not even account for the additional time for labs. For most full-time college students, meeting their weekly academic demands alone is the equivalent of a full-time job! For full-time students, academic demands along with extra-curricular activity, sports, and part-time work can quickly add up before carving out time to socialize with friends. Your student may find themselves regularly pulling all-nighters to finish homework or reading assignments. Encourage your student to not make this a habit. Sleep deprivation is a miserable experience! For college students, it can impair their motor and cognitive functioning and compromise their well-being. Harvard reports that young adults (18 to 25) should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but that 70% to 96% get less than eight hours of sleep each weeknight, and over 50% get less than seven hours of sleep. Why You Should Make a Good Night's Sleep a Priority - Harvard Summer School. For sleep-deprived students, “staying awake for 18 hours can have the same effect as a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.05 percent[,] [ and] staying awake for 24 hours can equate to a BAC of 0.10 percent (higher than the legal limit of 0.08 percent).” That said, encourage your student to manage their time so that they get sufficient sleep.
· Ask for help. Since your freshman got this far, at some point they sought out help from a from a high school teacher, administrator, supervisor, coach or pastor. Being in college is no different. Taking on more demanding academic work, with greater expectations, your freshman may find themselves needing assistance with their academic performance. There is nothing wrong with that. Most colleges have a wide range of academic supports for students. Encourage your student to seek assistance when needed: whether meeting a professor during office hours, forming a study group, or accessing private or peer tutoring. All of these options, and usually more, are readily available for students who seek out support. See also Encourage Your New College Student to Request Accommodations for Their Disability (2blackmomsandamic.com). Your student never needs to go it alone.
· Eat healthy and exercise! Parents who went to college in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s are well aware of the “Freshmen 15” – that’s the 15 pounds of weight gained during freshman year, typically due to increased alcohol intake and consuming fat and carb-rich foods day and night! But, this does not have to be! College cafeteria food options now often include healthy meal options with fresh fruits and vegetables. There are some colleges that even provide vegetarian and gluten-free meal options. In addition, many students keep small fridges in their rooms where they can store healthy fruits and vegetables for snacking. So encourage your freshman to maintain a healthy diet, and avoid late-night pizzas, unhealthy snacks and fast-food, and of course excessive alcohol intake. In addition, you don’t have to be on a varsity sports team to get exercise in. Regular jogs around campus, trips to the college gym, joining a yoga class, or playing college recreational sports are all great ways for your student to maintain their health and well-being during freshman year.
Editor’s Note: Parties and alcohol are a big part of the college social scene. Look out for our next two blog posts where we offer tips on talking to your freshman about alcohol and staying safe at college parties!