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Skidmore College
Counseling Center

New Territory: The First Year

The First Few Weeks and Months

The first few days, weeks, and even months of your son or daughter's college experience are likely to evoke a mix of anticipation, excitement, uncertainty, and anxiety–for them and for you. Some students will be experiencing their first separation from home for any prolonged period of time. For others, it will be another in a series of relocations. Either way, they will be starting in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar peers, having to make new connections and "learn the ropes" while grappling with how to balance friendships and other relationships from home.

All of these separations and dislocations are occurring at the same time that students are adjusting to a new and challenging set of academic demands. During freshman year, many students learn that study habits that worked in the past may not be effective anymore, since many of the goals of learning have shifted substantially to emphasize independent and critical thinking more than reporting information. Similarly, personal commitments and interests may be re-evaluated in light of additional information and new ways of reflecting upon their own experiences and the experiences of others.
For many students, struggling in the first year of college is not what they expected. It is often a real shock to find themselves no longer at the top of their class or getting the same grades as they did in high school. Some of the issues students may struggle with freshman year include:

Academic and Career Challenges

  • An increase in freedom at school and greater responsibility for their own education
  • Frustrations with administrative processes
  • Differences in course scheduling (not being in class all day or every day)
  • Changes in classroom, testing, and grading expectations and procedures
  • The need to actively manage study time to achieve the same grade
  • Anxiety and stress over midterms, finals, papers
  • The desire to try something new or radically different from previous interests
  • Significant differences in relationships with instructors and instructor expectations
  • New anxieties about their abilities or future plans
  • Doubts about the reasons for being in college

Relational Concerns

  • Homesickness and/or difficulties with separation and being on their own
  • Loneliness for, or challenges in, friendships, romantic, or family relationships back home
  • Peer group acceptance and questions about whether they fit in at Skidmore
  • Concern about current roommate(s) and/or room selection for next year
  • Coping with parental expectations
  • New experiences with dating and sexual relationships

Personal and Other Concerns

  • Finding their way around campus and learning about their new environment
  • Concerns about understanding the system
  • Culture shock
  • Money management
  • Exposure to and/or pressure to use alcohol or other substances
  • Time and sleep schedule management

The First Visit Home

Many students quickly adjust to more independent living in the college setting. Because of this adjustment, the first visit home (especially for an extended stay, such as winter break) can be a stressful time for everyone. Though it will likely provide much needed refueling time, during breaks from college your first-year son or daughter may feel sadness about leaving new friendships and love relationships. Additionally, being together again as a family stirs up new struggles over separation, independence, decision-making, and value systems. As they decide who they are and how they want to live their lives, students make choices about majors and careers, about religion and values, about sexual identity, and significant others. When they return home, these loaded issues surface and parents come face-to-face with the essence of letting go.

Parents may also find it tricky to strike a balance between respecting their son or daughter's emerging independence and wanting to run their household with some degree of order. Your student may expect that they will enjoy the same freedoms at home that they've become accustomed to at college, while you might feel that the rules and expectations from their high school years still apply (i.e. curfews, trips, home rules, etc.). It can be helpful to anticipate this situation ahead of time and have a conversation to negotiate some new rules and expectations that reflect their growing independence and sense of self-responsibility, while also respecting the wishes and needs of the rest of the family.