What I wish I could tell the parents of new first-year college students

Dear-Parent-Sending

1) There will be a few rough days ahead — when your son/daughter calls you with a tale of woe. Faculty will likely be the “main characters” in the plot. Please recognize that there might be more to the story than you are being told.

2) College is different than high school. There are less opportunities for students to escape from their errors; put differently, expect some times ahead where students will tell you that they missed an assignment and “the faculty member won’t let me turn it in late.” True enough – work is due on time.

3) A bad test grade will be just that — one bad grade that “stands,” not the first of many attempts at taking the test, like in many high school curricula. Help your student to realize every point matters during the semester – cramming at midterm or the final is not a good way of learning the material, long term. Students can recover from a bad test, if they decide to focus more, perhaps change how they study, and start studying sooner (cramming doesn’t work!).

4) Faculty want your student to succeed, but your student will have to create more of an internal motivation to do homework, read texts, etc., than in high school. Many of us don’t remind students of assignments — that is the student’s job to know when work is due. He or she has to study because it matters to her or him, not to you, not to the faculty member. We would welcome if you could partner with us to help your student understand why a course is required.

5) Learning time management will take a while but faculty and staff have lots of ideas to help — but we’re not empaths, we don’t read minds. Encourage your student to come to office hours, if s/he is struggling, even if your student doesn’t know how to ask questions. We want to help! And if they don’t even know what to ask, that’s okay too. Come in and tell me what is the last concept they understood and we’ll go from there.

6) College is different; students who succeeded without learning strong study habits in high school might struggle for a while in college, until they learn study habits. Please help us to help your student: if they talk about issues with studying, ask them if they have a planner, if they are ‘touching’ every class at least every other day (and ideally, every day). Ask if they’ve talked with us and encourage them to come see us — I promise, WE DON’T BITE! Sure, we can have a bad day every now and then, but we want your student to succeed too — it makes class time more enjoyable for all of us when things are going well for most or all of the class!

7) Faculty are not sadists; students sometimes think we are, though. Many of us assign students homework, online quizzes, etc., most days out of the week because brain science says that the more a person works with new material, the more the person will learn it deeply (versus just memorize it for the quiz or test).

8) Core curriculum class content should fit together and deepen students’ skills (e.g., reading and interpreting the written word, writing, mathematics and calculating, communication, knowledge of how US society works, etc.); our university’s core tries to weave together a solid foundation for the student’s major courses, which will narrow and focus their interests. We’d love it if you asked your student to try to integrate the knowledge from more than one course. It’s a skill needed to succeed at college and even more, on the job.

So these next few weeks, you’ll likely hear about us from your student. We’ll be supportive but also pushing your student intellectually. There will be forward progress and then perhaps a few steps backwards. That’s okay—it’s what the first year of college is like for most students. Faculty and staff are here – not as replacements for you – but as guides, mentors, and role models.

Let’s make this a good year for your student.