Each fall a new group of fresh faces arrive at college campuses across the country. Unlike decades past, college students do not leave home and disconnect. Zachary Beaver of Springfield, director of Student Engagement and Leadership Development at American International College in Springfield, Mass., said parents, family, and friends from home can be in contact on a constant minute by minute basis.
"Today's college student has probably not known a life without the Internet, mobile phones, and what it's like to live life 'off the grid.'"
That doesn't mean students should be calling home with every new dilemma that crops up. "Become your own problem solver," Beaver said. "Stop calling mom and dad when something small happens. Learning to solve your own problems helps students gain independence. Do you really want to live in your parents' basement when you graduate?"
College offers the first year student exposure to world of new things both in and outside of the classroom. "There will be both challenges and success. This constant connection affords parents to share in all of this more than ever before," he said.
Beaver offers some tips for surviving the freshman year. "Bring important information with you to campus. You will need your driver's license and social security card for getting a job on or off campus," he said. "You'll also need insurance information for trip waivers, and bank information."
College is a time of major growth and development for students, Beaver said. "Take risks. Taking risks will help gain confidence and experience new things in a safe environment."
Another important tip for incoming freshmen is to get involved. "There is nothing more important than finding involvement opportunities outside the classroom. Not only do studies show this will improve grades and instill a sense of pride in the institution, it will help students build the transferable skills they need to find a job upon graduation," Beaver said.
Carol Sitterly of West Brookfield, Dean for Academic Success at AIC, said the transition to the academic life of college presents its own set of challenges for first time college students.
"The key to academic success is learning to balance all of the new demands--friends, roommates, co-curricular activities, class time and study time. Colleges offer freshmen seminar courses, like the EDC102 course at AIC, to help students recognize the challenges and develop strategies to meet the increased demands," she said.
Sitterly said, for some students the transition is smooth, guided by the clear academic and career goals they have set for themselves. But, she said, that is the exception, rather than the rule. "The more common experience for new students is a period of exploration--developing a study schedule that optimizes chances for success, taking new and interesting courses, and examining career options within majors. For some students, the transition and period of exploration can be overwhelming and the key to success for these students is to seek out resources to help them put the pieces in perspective," according to Sitterly.
Parents can help in the transition by being aware of the resources and services available and encouraging their son or daughter to make use of them. "Willingness to take advantage of resources and services can be the tipping point to academic success. New students can have it all--personal, co-curricular and academic success--by establishing balance and developing a willingness to actively engage in all aspects of college life," Sitterly said.
Sitterly warns of parent over-involvement. "It is tempting for parents to involve themselves in roommate problems, grade concerns, and conduct issues.This is a natural inclination since many parents are paying the bills. However, a significant part of learning that takes place in higher education takes place outside of the classroom. Every campus has resources that are there to help the student. However, the student should be encouraged to seek out and utilize these resources on their own. This way they not only experience the learning inside the classroom - but they grow in how to manage their own affairs independently. The most successful students take ownership over their own dilemmas - whether it is working through a not so good roommate situation, dealing with noise issues, questioning a bill, or learning to study for that impossible professor."
Sitterly said the most important thing to send your student to college with is the 18 years of life lessons you have taught them. "Now is the time for your student to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, learn from mistakes, and triumph from success," she said.