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Supporting your New Student

"Transitions are almost always signs of growth, but they can bring feelings of loss. To get somewhere new, we may have to leave somewhere else behind." - Fred Rogers

Late Summer

While every student is different, feelings of nervousness, excitement, pressure, and success are quite common. The following timeline is designed to provide families and supporters with information about transitions that new college students commonly face. We recommend that families and supporters take on a coaching and mentoring role to encourage students to make their own decisions and chart their own path as young adults. 

You can use the information learned at orientation and from this website to refer your student back to available resources. Below is a guide to help you anticipate what your student may experience as the year progresses. 

Be prepared for your student’s and your own conflicting emotions as move-in day approaches. Discomfort is part of the process.

Talk about academic expectations and encourage your student to set goals. Make a financial plan and openly discuss payment/spending expectations. Talk about how often you plan to communicate with each other. Discuss the use of alcohol and other personal choices your student will be making. Be sure to coach your student toward co-curricular activities that will help them find a social-support network. 

  • What are you most looking forward to about attending Ithaca College?
  • What is your plan for making friends at college? 
  • What are you most nervous about?
  • What plans do you have for saying goodbye to friends who are staying home or going to other schools? What plans do you have to stay in touch?
  • How would you like us to stay in touch? How often is too little, just right, or too much? 

September

As students move to campus and begin classes, they are faced with new opportunities to make their own choices, balance social and academic life, and experience new freedoms. Feelings of homesickness and the desire for frequent contact with family are common.

The Office of Community Engagement can help connect new and transfer students to campus through involvement programs and events. Students are also getting to know their roommates, making new friends on campus, adjusting to college policies and procedures, and finding their way around.

This tends to be a time when students incur a lot of expenses for items such as textbooks, school supplies, and room decorations/furnishings.

Remember that you are now transitioning into being a coach and mentor to your student. Listen with an open mind and be supportive. Encourage your student to attend welcome activities on campus, all their classes, and meet new friends. Ask about connections with professors, workload and time management plan, friends, club involvement, and staying mentally / physically healthy.  

  • Are you being a good roommate? 
  • How many professors have you visited during office hours? What was that experience like? 
  • What is your favorite study spot? Why does it work for you? 
  • What events have you attended? Which did you like most?
  • Is the amount of money we agreed upon working out? Are you budgeting your Bomber Bucks and ID Express?
  • Which classes could you use more support in? Remember the tutoring center, writing center, and Academic Advising Center if you need to adjust your schedule before the drop/add period of classes. 
  • Are you finding your classes interesting and engaging? Are there any you want to switch before drop/add ends?

October - November

Classes are in full swing, and students are beginning to get feedback and grades on their assignments. Some may be surprised at the amount of work they have for their classes and may struggle with managing their time. Others will be disappointed about grades on their first exams or assignments. Roommate conflicts may also flare up at this time after the initial “honeymoon” phase is over.

In addition, class enrollment for spring is quickly approaching, and students will be making plans with their academic advisors. Some students might struggle with some addictive behaviors. Many students are already discussing their housing plans for next year.

Of course, life will still continue at home, and students will want to stay informed about what’s going on with their families.

To be reassuring to your student, express confidence that your student can succeed in this environment. Have two-way conversations: let your student know what’s going on at home and don’t make any major changes—moving, vacations, remodeling your student’s room, etc.—without talking about it first. Be aware of the nation’s political atmosphere and encourage your student to feel comfortable discussing issues.

Talk about study skills and time management and refer to campus resources. Encourage your student to form relationships with instructors and attend the in-person appointment with an academic advisor when selecting next semester’s classes. Discuss plans for upcoming events, such as a trip home for Thanksgiving break and how this will change things in your home. Ask about study time, workload, and involvement in campus organizations/activities. Also inquire about taxes and the FAFSA.

As your student begins to make housing decisions for next year, make sure your student knows that the residence halls offer many programs popular with returning students.

  • How are you managing the workload? What is your study schedule?
  • What courses are you thinking of taking next semester? Why?
  • Are you thinking about joining any groups, clubs, or activities? Which ones? Why?
  • Have you met with any more of your professors outside of class? What about your advisor?
  • What can you do differently on your next assignment/project to do better? How were your mid-terms?

December

As final exams approach, students may feel more stress about academics. This, combined with the onset of winter weather in New York, can leave some students feeling run down.

While they may be anxious for the semester to end, some students are excited about returning home and preparing for the holidays. However, financial strain because of holiday gifts, traveling costs, etc. could cause stress.

Sending a care package that includes healthy snacks, cold remedies, and favorite holiday items from home can go a long way to boosting your student’s spirits and your student’s immunity to illness.

Discuss plans for winter break, including vacation time, working, or doing work for winter session classes. Understand that planning for the holidays, if your family celebrates in December, is not the same without everyone present.

  • What are you doing to stay well during finals week?
  • Which exams/projects are you concerned about?
  • What could I send you to help you feel better?
  • What do you want to do at home during your break?

Winter Break

With fall semester finished, many students return home for winter break, and there may be concerns about how they will adjust to routines at home. For many, winter break is an opportunity to catch up on sleep and reconnect with old friends they haven’t seen in months.

They will also begin to receive their first semester grades and experience joy, disappointment, or relief. This could also bring about relationship separation anxiety from a significant other.

Some students, upon talking to friends at home, get "transfer fever." Sometimes, the grass looks greener at another college. Sometimes, one friend saying they are going to transfer ignites an idea for others in the friend group. Bluntly, this is a generation that fears failure and often confuses failure with disappointment. (This is not about shaming, this is about educating what we know from student development theory - yes we study that!). This fear of failure can make a student commitment-averse or decision-averse. When a friend shares the rosy, social-media ready description of college-life for them, it can cause your student to question whether they made the right choice. As a family member or supporter, it is important to know that the idea of transferring may pop up - particularly during breaks. And, it is important for you to coach your student to remember that they already made a great decision in their choice of college! 

Have conversations about yours and your student's expectations and schedules before and after your student returns to you. This can help ease the transition for all family members. 

  • Let’s talk about how the rules will change for you when you are home, now that you are a college student.
  • What was the best part of your first semester in college? What would you do differently?
  • What classes are you taking next semester? Which are you most excited about? Are you retaking any courses with the same professor from fall? How do you feel about that?
  • Have you thought about where you are going to live next year?

January - February

Students should strive to return from winter break with renewed energy for the semester ahead. A few students may feel emotional stress due to family issues that surfaced over the break or financial stress from the holidays.

This is a typical time for students to reassess their time management strategies and turn over a new leaf, if necessary. Students may also engage in more exploration about their majors or careers, changing their minds, or solidifying previous choices. Students will begin looking into campus leadership positions and involvement opportunities.

Also, students begin thinking about spring break, including making plans for travel, work, or catching up on coursework.

The house is empty again—it’s a roller coaster ride! You might feel some anxiety about your student’s grades. This is a good time to review or revise budgets based on a semester’s worth of experience. Also ask what changes might need to occur to ensure academic success. Encourage spring break safety.

If you haven’t done so already, talk with your student about plans for living arrangements next year; this process can cause social anxiety and a fear of being excluded.

  • What do you like about your new classes?
  • Are you doing anything differently with your studying this semester?
  • Have you decided what you are doing for spring break?
  • Tell me about your good friends on campus.
  • Have you decided where to live next year?

March - May

Spring break comes and goes, and many students start making plans for the summer, all in the midst of another set of midterms. Most students feel more confident with their time-management skills and experience less stress with their exams this time around. They will also be enrolling in classes for the fall and considering options for the summer.

Some students will have mixed feelings about leaving Ithaca College for the summer, and others will decide to stay to take classes and/or pursue summer work opportunities. Students may feel apprehensive about leaving their friendships and relationships they’ve established over the academic year.

As the spring semester ends, you are likely to be amazed at the changes in your student and all that your student has accomplished this year.

With a year under your student’s belt, this is a good time to check in about credit card use and financial budgeting. Talk about any changes that should be made for academic success.

Encourage your student to take advantage of the Career Services workshops and events. Ask your student whether taking a summer course might be part of a strategy to stay on track for graduation or a chance to focus on a challenging course. 

If your student is returning home, discuss expectations regarding rules and responsibilities for the summer, as well as expectations for earning money and saving for the upcoming year.

  • What value could taking a summer course provide? Have you discussed summer courses with your advisor?
  • What courses are you taking next year?
  • What are you looking forward to about your living arrangements for next year?
  • How do you think you have changed this year?
  • What do you wish you had done differently in your first year of college?
  • I am so proud of everything you have learned and accomplished this year!