Dear parents of college freshmen: I feel you.
You’re thrilled your child was accepted into college. So much to learn! So many new experiences! A broadened mind and, fingers crossed, a decently-paying profession in four more years!
You’re also terrified. What if what you saw in your social media feed about Horrible College Experience #362 is true? What if someone breaks your child’s heart, or worse? What if you lose a semester of outrageously high tuition because your child decides missing “just a couple” classes is no big deal and fails her first semester?
I get it.
I did the Great Goodbye four times in six years as my now successful-in-every-way adult children took off for their respective freshman years in college. I was so excited the night before each of them left that I couldn’t sleep. After my husband and I dropped them off, I spent weeks worrying, as if my heart was out walking around outside of my body.
But having been on the receiving end of college freshmen the past six years working in higher education, I’m here to say that your transition can be easier. How? By tying your financial investment in your child’s education to the following Freshman Year To-Do List.
It will decrease your worry and increase your child’s resilience and chance of success if you require them to:
1See their academic advisor in the first six weeks of school. This crucial person helps students navigate all higher education, not just course planning, and are often the first person to notice a student’s distress. If your child wonders how to find his advisor, ask him how he’d find a pizza in a new town. Have fun watching the ‘Google it’ light go off over his head.
2Make an appointment with their internship coordinator and/or career counselor. All universities have a centralized career counseling center and some majors have their own. I can assure you if I see a student her freshman year, I have a much better chance of guaranteeing she’ll get a job after graduation.
3Have them check their university email daily, and know how to compose a professional email. In higher education, most communication is done by email and when university employees get an email that appears to have been written by a third-grader, it’s not a good impression.
4Get involved in one group on campus. It can the recycling club, student government, a religious organization, intermural sports team, a comedy troupe, etc. There are hundreds of groups on campuses and they help students make healthy connections that offer support during freshman year. An on-campus job can often serve the same purpose.
5Meet with at least two of their professors during office hours each semester. This is especially important if she’s having trouble in a class, but even if she’s doing well, mastering face-to-face conversations with adults unrelated to her will help her succeed. Talking to professors, each with unique personalities, is one of the best ways to practice this kind of communication.
As you’re treasuring your last days with your college student at home, remember that those of us working in higher education have the same goals for your child as you do: academic success, personal safety, emotional security and professional happiness.
If your student does the five things above, they’ll cross our path sooner rather than later, and we help them reach those goals. Don’t worry, parents. We’ve got your back.
Renée Schafer Horton is a former journalist now serving as the University of Arizona School of Journalism’s internship supervisor and career counselor.