College can be a difficult transition for many young people. Many incoming college freshmen have never spent more than a week or two away from home and will face intense bouts of homesickness. To avoid homesickness and anxiety that can ruin a first semester away from home, high school graduates should make distinct plans for their freshman year of college in regard to communicating with home.
First, it must be established that the new college student is an adult and that his or her parents cannot control and protect like they did during high school. To better highlight this point parents and student should agree upon a communication schedule with both maximum and minimum limits. For example, to ensure that parents are kept in the loop, they may require that their away-from-home college freshman call at least once per week. At the opposite end of the spectrum, to help ensure that their child is not remaining overly dependent, parents may require that their son or daughter not call more than once per day. This way lines of communication remain open but are not abused to the point of student helplessness.
Secondly, expectations of student behavior and performance should be set before the student leaves home. Students who go off to college knowing what their parents expect in regard to grades may actually have less anxiety than students who feel adrift in an ambiguous situation. Obviously, expectations should not be draconian, but nor should they be lax. Students who know that their parents will disapprove of underage drinking, failing exams, or neglecting their health may take pride in upholding their values and maintaining their parents’ respect.
College freshmen who are simply warned “don’t mess up” may spend lots of time worrying about what, exactly, that entails and may be afraid to have any fun. Freshmen may also swing the other way and take advantage of ambiguous admonitions, engaging in lots of risky behavior by rationalizing through a “they didn’t tell me not to” lens. Setting realistic guidelines for parental expectations may help students still have fun while taking pride in knowing which activities they will avoid.
Third, students and parents need to research resources available in the event that help is needed. Living apart from parents for the first time can mean that a college freshman is on his or her own in the event of illness, injury, vehicle breakdown, financial emergency, or victimization. Before heading off to the dorms each incoming freshman should have a list of important phone numbers and addresses detailing how to find, and get help from, doctors and medical clinics, auto towing and repair centers, local police, fire, and EMS locations, college advisors and counselors, and his or her respective bank or financial institution. Though many large universities are rather insular and may offer all that students need on a day-to-day basis, it can be extremely stressful if a student needs off-campus help and cannot find a good phone number or address.
Finally, how will the student handle transportation? A tough decision for many college freshmen involves whether or not to bring a vehicle to campus, share a car with a roommate or friend, or rely on public transportation. Is the campus bicycle friendly? If so, can the bike be stored in the dorm or in convenient bike racks? Is parking convenient? How much will it cost? Though bringing a car to campus can mean quick popularity and instant freedom, it can also be expensive through parking fees, tickets, and regular maintenance. If parents will be paying fees and maintenance on the car they have the right to expect that their son or daughter will appropriately maintain and use the vehicle, requiring these expectations to be formalized prior to the start of college.
Of course, every vehicle sent off to college with a student should be stocked with a repair kit, working jack and spare tire, and emergency rations and signaling equipment (such as a road flares). In case of GPS or cell phone failure, nothing beats stocking a glove box with folding maps of the area, and all college freshmen should receive some pre-departure experience with map navigation. Even if they do not need to use maps while driving, their first week of campus navigation will often require the use of a paper map.