First Year U

by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Send-offs can be tough, especially when a child is headed to college for the first time.

Fortunately, there are things parents and students can do ease the transition and lay the foundation for success.

Grace Mulcahy, director of counseling services for Benedictine College in Atchison, said that a student’s freshman year of college presents both opportunities and challenges.

Students must navigate and divide their time between their academic, social, spiritual and emotional well-being.

“It’s a new level of autonomy and independence,” said Mulcahy. “There’s a period of grieving, meeting new people and getting used to a new academic system. It can cause stress and discomfort.”

That stress and discomfort may seem to last an eternity to the student, but it is often temporary, Mulcahy said.

Benedictine College and the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth both offer a number of tips and services to make it easier on both students and parents.

  • Homesickness may be the first hurdle, whether your student admits it or not. Mulcahy suggests students not be in a rush to decide that this college is not for them. She recommends students evaluate their feelings after one semester and then see if they can complete a full year. After all, it takes time to get to know other students.
  • Roommates can be a source of stress. But they also can become lifelong friends. Universities make early attempts to match students by common interests, including grouping students by major, if requested. Parents and students should look into the college’s procedures for changing roommates before an issue arises.
  • Taking responsibility for daily tasks is critical for freshmen, according to Danielle Dion, dean of Keleher Learning Commons and student affairs at University of Saint Mary. If you missed the opportunity to teach your child how to do laundry at home, encourage him or her to start with the most basic task at school — checking email daily.

“Email is usually the preferred method of communication in the college setting, so it’s essential for students to get in the habit of checking their email to stay connected,” said Dion. “It provides you with all the information you need for your academics and social opportunities.”

  • Opportunities to be a part of campus life are endless, whether it’s for social or other reasons. A club represents many interests, whether it’s tied to religion, politics, hobbies, sports, activism, leadership and more. Encourage your child to get involved, which might lead to new friendships as well.
  • Staying physically active is important for a student’s overall health. Most colleges and universities have recreation centers that offer everything from swimming to basketball. Look for open swim and gym schedules that allow students to drop in when the mood strikes.
  • Academics, of course, are students’ and parents’ chief concerns. Dion encourages students to stay in touch with counselors to make sure they are properly enrolled for each semester and have secured financial aid, if necessary. Likewise, it’s important for students and counselors to closely track the hours they’ve accumulated and those required for graduation. Too often, students change majors and don’t realize that some existing hours don’t apply to the new major. These are essentially useless and extend a student’s requirements and costs to graduate.
  • Don’t forget to send your student care packages. They may not admit it, but they enjoy them. Consider sending gift cards to local restaurants, inspirational notes, snacks and other things they may welcome.
  • Many colleges and universities have a medical clinic on campus or within the town itself. Make sure your child knows where it is and has filled prescription medicine. Some medicine, such as allergy shots, can be sent directly from a doctor’s office to the campus clinic.
  • If you discover your child is struggling emotionally, don’t hesitate to talk to the school’s counselors. Because your child is over the age of 18, their records are private. However, counselors can offer general guidance for addressing certain topics.
  • Your child’s spiritual well-being is just as important. Catholic universities, such as University of Saint Mary and Benedictine College, offer numerous ways for students to practice their faith. Similarly, Catholic campus organizations at area public universities — such as the University of Kansas, Emporia University and Washburn University — offer social and spiritual opportunities to meet fellow Catholics and “feed your spiritual life,” Mulcahy said.

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