November is the time of year when exams are nearly over and students are signing their accommodation contracts and dreaming of their new flats and friendships and becoming uni students. The American movie in their heads is yet to be tarnished by the grubby flatmate who never does the dishes or by the flatmate who plays music very loudly before the exams. Reality can often be very different from the fantasy.
However, everyone is unique and some students fly off and never look back, others become terribly homesick but overcome this by the end of the first semester. Almost everyone makes new friends eventually, gets to grips with the study and settles in pretty well.
(Refer back to other posts like What Adolescents Really Need From Parents or Stand By Me-Helping Teens Through Tough Times if you think your teen is beyond simply having a” blue” day and needs much more support wrapped around them.)
I would like to recommend to parents the following book as a good read for helping your teen make the transition. Irene Madjar and Elizabeth McKinley in their book Unibound comment, "..transition from school to university is a time of excitement, anxious anticipation, planning, preparation and the eventual encounter with the reality of university study and student life." (Unibound Students' Stories of Transition from School to University. Edited by Irene Madjar and Elizabeth McKinley.)
Here are a few tips that might help.
- Keep connected, but not too connected! Encourage them to stay at uni for the first 4 weeks at least. It’s the best way to adjust and meet new people.
- Model strong communication skills. According to the American College Health Association, 72.5 % of students say they get most of their health information from their parents. Show that it’s okay to talk about sensitive and emotional subjects and that it's fine to disagree and be upset.
- Talk about the budget. Discuss what is expected financially from each person. Figure out living costs and spending money well in advance.
- Review previous house rules. You and your teen will notice a significant change when they arrive home for the Semester 1 break. It’s realistic to keep the basic “empty the dishwasher” rules, but some rules like curfews may have to be re-evaluated altogether.
- Don't panic if your teen finds the course is not for them. They need at least one semester to try a course out and many students change direction after the first year.
With independence and freedom comes self-discipline; no-one is on their back but this is counterbalanced by the responsibilities of cooking, budgeting, making friends, coping with stress and assignments, and generally looking after themselves.
In chapter 9 of Unibound, Poloma Iosefa reflects on the failures of his first year.
I left with pens, books and good intentions but we would all meet up and start laughing and then say, "Aren't you going to class?" "Nah, I'll miss this one and go tomorrow." One missed class turned in to quite a few and that was it.
Try to convey to your teen that a full-time course is just the same as a job but that the hours are more flexible. And speaking of jobs, for a first-year student I would recommend no more than 12 hours of work outside of university, at least until they settle in.
At AUT's Scholar Support team, we see the ups and the downs every semester. We celebrate those who bombed out completely in Semester 1 but made a great comeback in Semester 2, and worry about the ones who seem to have been okay in Semester 1 but then got off track in the second semester. Failing a paper is not the end of the world, although of course it is an added expense. Many students get a shock when they fail and this can spur them on to do well in the future.
No two students are the same but a few basic principles like seeking help early, attending group workshops for basic things like essay structure and mixing with committed students all help.
The final word goes to Poloma Iosefa,
If you are at university you are on the right track, but you have to do the work to pass. Remember why you are at university and who you are doing it for. You are studying not only for yourself but also for your family and especially for your parents who have gone all out to put you there. Friends come and go. They have their own paths. Your family will always be there, on the same path as you.
Poloma went on to be a highly successful student. As always, any advice you have or experiences your teen has had add to our collective knowledge.