Starting college is one of life’s major milestones. For many students, it’s the first time they’ll be living away from home, the first time they’ll be responsible for decisions about what to study and their daily routine. So it’s no wonder that the summer leading up to college is filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What if my classes are too hard? What if I have no friends?
It’s crucial that freshmen get the support they need to make this transition smoothly, otherwise they’re at high risk of dropping out. According to Department of Education, only about 40 percent of full-time students graduate from college in four years. The National Student Clearinghouse, a higher-education nonprofit, found that nearly 25 percent of full-time college students end up leaving school without completing their degree, and the dropout rate is even worse for part-time students. Six years after enrolling, only about 30 percent have graduated or continue to take classes.
Starting College Off Right
So how do you start off college right? By acknowledging the challenges ahead and finding out where to go for help when you need it.
“Probably the number one concern of new college students is entering an unfamiliar social environment,” says Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick. “For most students, leaving home means trading a friendly and familiar social environment for an unfamiliar one, in which the vital experience of belonging is something that needs to be created anew, from scratch.”
Common worries among new students include:
- Anxiety about getting along with roommates
- Making new friends
- Keeping up with the academic workload
- Campus logistics (what if I get lost on the first day of class?)
Students can and should be reassured that there are things they can do to address all these potential problems. “It helps to identify ahead of time who, what, and where you can go to for help,” Jessup says.
Resident advisors in the dorms are trained to address roommate conflicts, and can even help arrange a room switch if necessary. Researching campus clubs and activities can steer a new student toward others with similar interests.
Focus on Time Management
And even before arriving on campus, students should be thinking about how they’ll stay organized.
“College presents significant challenges in time management,” Jessup says. Whether it’s an app on your phone or a paper planner, Jessup says freshman need to make sure they have the tools they’ll need to keep track of class times and meetings, administrative tasks, and deadlines.
Set Realistic Goals for Freshman Year
Today’s college students are under pressures their own parents may not recognize or understand. “Young people today are expected to ‘hit the ground running’ in order to launch a successful adulthood,” he says. “I hear more anxiety expressed these days about picking the right major, about strategic planning for graduate or professional school, about making sure that you’re doing all you can to justify the enormous expense of college.”
To counteract these relentless expectations, both students and their parents should be realistic about the goals for freshman year.
“I think it’s helpful for parents to endorse the idea that the first term—if not the entire first year of college—is going to be all about adjusting to living away from home, meeting new people and navigating a complex new environment,” Jessup says. “It should be a time for curiosity, for intellectual exploration and for tolerating ambiguity, uncertainty and novelty.”
Maintain a Connection with Family
That’s not to say students should be sent off to figure it all out themselves. Jessup says the students who adjust best to college life are those who have a good support system at home, as well as a good road map for where to seek help on campus. Students should leave home knowing how often they’re expected to check in with family, what kind of financial support they’ll be receiving, and how often they’ll be coming home for visits during the school year.
“Maintaining supportive connections with family and friends from home can help students feel grounded and self-aware as they navigate new territory,” Jessup says.
Additional Support: Campus Competence
For students who need more intensive, hands-on support, Yellowbrick’s new Campus Competence program is designed to assist young adults with learning disabilities or mental health challenges adjust to college life. A sober residential community located two blocks from the Northwestern University campus, it offers individual career and academic counseling, an on-staff occupational therapist to help students stay organized, and group sessions with experienced Yellowbrick professionals. For more information, visit: https://www.yellowbrickprogram.com/campus-competence-services.html