Being a parent may be different when your child is in college. First-year students are usually excited about their growing sense of independence, but there can be some anxiety mixed in with the anticipation. Your student will still turn to you when there is a problem, but it may hinder your student’s growing independence if you take an overactive role in resolving the situation. Encourage your student to work toward solving his or her own problems, but know that your student does not have to do it alone. There are staff members throughout the University who can be resources to whom you can point your student.
Below are some common situations and general tips you may choose to use as you guide your student. As an individual your student trusts, you may have the ability to present a different perspective. In addition, in many of these situations residence hall staff can be an initial resource to help your student. Our staff is actively involved in assisting students as they adjust to Western Michigan University. The resident assistants on each floor are trained as peer helpers and are knowledgeable of campus resources. Many times the answer may just be a few doors down the hall.
“I hate it here and I want to come home…”
“I don’t know anyone here…”
“I don’t fit in…”
Each student adjusts to college at his or her own pace and may face different challenges. Homesickness is a normal part of the transition. First-year students are undergoing major adjustments in many aspects of their lives, and home represents security, comfort and how things used to be. Calling or sending care packages is one way to ease the transition. It lets your child know he or she is missed and still a part of the family. However, contact too frequently can be detrimental because it does not encourage the student to venture out or may be interpreted as “smothering.”
Encourage your student to get involved in campus activities and organizations, attend floor programs and meet people. On a campus of more than 25,000 students, no one will be completely isolated and alone; it may just take time to meet others. If your student does not know where to go to meet people, the resident assistant on the floor can be a great help in facilitating introductions. Students who stay in their room all the time or go home every weekend may actually prolong their adjustment period. Your student needs to give college a chance and allow some time to develop a sense of what it means to be part of WMU.
“I can’t find anything to eat…”
Students occasionally “get tired of the same old stuff,” but always going to the same dining facility will create that feeling of redundancy and a desire for variety. Encourage your student to explore the different dining options on campus or participate in the special meals and theme dinners that are offered. If your student is having trouble finding food she/he can eat based on health or lifestyle preferences, a dietician is available in the Dining Services office. The dietician can work with your student to identify vegan, low-sugar and other dietary options.
“My roommate and I just don’t get along…”
Roommate conflicts are a normal part of college life as people learn to adjust to one another. Sharing a room with someone is a new experience for most of our students. Lack of communication and unrealistic expectations of the relationship are at the root of most conflicts. As such, most conflicts can be resolved by talking things out and learning that there are two sides to every situation. Often one person is hesitant to confront the other due to embarrassment, uncertainty of the other person’s reaction or what to say, or hope that the problem will just go away. The reality is that unless the other person knows that there is a problem, he or she cannot take corrective action or be a part of developing a compromise. If problems continue after roommates have talked, encourage your student to contact the resident assistant. The RA can offer advice on managing the situation, provide a mediation service or inform your student on how to change rooms.
The following are tips for a healthy roommate relationship:
“School is too hard, I don’t think I can do this…”
College is a different environment from high school and requires new ways to study, prepare for exams, take notes and manage time. What came easy academically in high school may no longer be the case. Part of it takes time and self-discipline to figure out the new set of academic expectations, but help is also available. WMU has several academic assistance programs including tutoring, study skills and note taking tips, and writing centers. Most importantly, encourage your son or daughter to talk with his or her professors. The professor can clarify course-specific expectations, offer advice, refer your student to academic assistance centers or work with him or her individually. Other resources include upper-class students and the resident assistant on your student's floor.
“It’s never quiet in my room and I can’t study…”
Quiet hours do exist in the residence halls and individual floor norms regarding noise will be established early on. Students are encouraged to hold each other accountable about noise and respond to peer requests to turn down music, etc. Because the resident assistant is not always around, community members need to be active in shaping their own academic environment. In addition to studying in the room, there are lounges and study rooms in the residence halls and other quiet places on campus, like the library.
“I don’t know what I want to do but everyone else has a major…”
“I thought I wanted to be a…but now I don’t…”
Students sometimes feel pressure to chose a major immediately and place the same value on choosing a major as making decisions that will affect their entire life. The reality is that it is the rare student who knows what he or she wants to do and remains committed to it during a lifetime. Most students will spend their early college years experimenting with different fields of study and career options until they find what genuinely interests them. Taking time with these decisions is recommended, and it is not a sign of failure if someone decides a major is not for him or her. If your student is struggling with choosing a career path, Career and Student Employment Services offers assistance.
“Send more money! I’m broke…”
Budgeting is an important life skill that many learn in college. Assist your student in developing a budget by asking where money is being spent and how frequently. Financial aid and campus jobs are readily accessible should extra income be needed. There are even job opportunities in the residence halls. Students searching for on-campus employment can contact Career and Student Employment Services.
“I need a credit card…”
Providing your student with a credit card needs to be a family decision. It is important to discuss responsibility, spending above one’s means, developing a credit history and the impact of missed payments. Credit card companies do frequent campuses with promotional giveaways to entice students to sign up for a card. Educate your student that signing up just to get a free T-shirt does have strings attached. Your student needs to fully read the information about the card before committing to anything.