Tips to prepare your rising college freshman
With college classes beginning in August, Florida’s first-time college parents are wondering what they can do to prepare.
Mandy Shields knows a thing or two about that. Shields, the interim director of the Residential Student Experience at Florida State University, has more than two decades of experience talking to college freshmen and their parents. Her overarching piece of advice?
“If you have questions, contact the campus directly,” she said. “Social media channels can be helpful but there’s also so much misinformation that floats out there — not on purpose or with nefarious intentions, just people sharing info that is either outdated or was specific to their situation but is not applicable to the general population. Trust but verify.”
“The number one struggle that families don’t think about in that first semester is sleep.”
Beyond that, Shields breaks her advice into three buckets: summer preparations, move-in day, and first semester.
Students who are living alone for the first time will soon come to know what they don’t know. Guardians can shorten that list by thinking through the gaps and doing some remediation in these last few weeks of summer.
- Create a financial plan. Agree on a budget ahead of time, taking into consideration eating out and other recreation. “College is expensive — what you see on paper – but also what you don’t see,” Shields said. “Small things add up. So, what’s your slush fund going to be and how do we manage that?”
- Consider household responsibilities. “Laundry! You think I’m joking, but the damage that gets done to laundry machines by 17- and 18-year-olds who have never touched a laundry machine is real — and expensive,” she said. Also, make sure your teen has and knows how to use basic cleaning supplies.
- Think through a communication plan. Set expectations for how, and how often, students will check in. “I think the jolt is you have all this indirect feedback when they live in your home. You know they’re in their room; you know they’re doing homework,” she said. When they move out, you’ll miss having that awareness. The right communication cadence varies from family to family; consider now what it will take to reduce the worry factor for yours.
- Know the safety and security protocols on campus. This is likely to be covered at a summer orientation, but if it isn’t, feel free to ask questions. Put your campus’s safety contact information into your phone so it’s there in an emergency. Sign up for alerts and know which websites to go to in the event of severe weather in your child’s campus community.
- Be patient. A lot of people will have been working hard to prepare for you and your child, and they are excited to see you. Feel free to ask them lots of questions, but just prepare for the whole experience to take time. And “It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot,” she said. “Take care of yourselves.”
- Consider your own emotions, in addition to your student’s. “Family members put 99 percent of their energy in taking care of the student’s transition, but think ahead about what your experience will be,” she said. “Remember the kindergarten boohoo? It’s that on steroids. Just think about preparing yourself emotionally and create some space for that.”
- Encourage your student to find their connection. “Your chances of success are very closely connected to finding your place on campus,” Shields said. Continue with a high school activity or don’t — it’s a great time to try something new entirely. “There are an overwhelming amount of opportunities, and it can be easy to check out because it’s just too much. Try a bunch and see what sticks.”
- Remember wellness. “The number one struggle that families don’t think about in that first semester is sleep,” Shields said. “Sleep is something that really our freshmen have a hard time balancing with all the other exciting opportunities they have in their lives. So, think about asking, ‘Have you slept? Have you eaten a vegetable?’”
- Join your campus’s parent or family organization. It’s a great way for new families to connect with each other, find a sounding board and stay informed. They may host orientations, put out newsletters, offer periodic online events or have message boards.
“And once they make it through that first semester, it’s usually smooth sailing,” Shields said.
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