Help Your Student Survive the First Year of College

Encouraging them through the toughest of times

“I’m dropping out.”

No parent wants to hear those three words. But, unfortunately, thousands of parents hear them each year. Too often, parents watch excited college freshmen leave their homes in August, only to have them return disillusioned and dejected a few short months later. According to national data compiled by ACT, more than one out of four college freshmen don’t return to the same college for their sophomore year. Some enroll at another institution, and some take a break before returning to school—and many never return to college at all.

Students leave college for many reasons. Whatever they are, dropping out is damaging to a young person’s self-esteem, tough on parents’ hopes for the future, and hard on everyone’s wallets.

There are several things you can do to help your student make a successful transition to college.

Choose a college that’s a good match. Not many people would choose a home just by looking on the Internet or reading a brochure; students shouldn’t choose a college that way either. And parents need to remember that the college choice is the student’s—not theirs! It’s important that your teen visits campuses and asks a lot of questions. 

Help your student get connected to people at the college. Students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to others. During college visits, your student should meet faculty members of departments in which they’re interested. Encourage them to attend all orientation events so they get to know academic advisers, housing staff members, and other college officials. Keep encouraging them to get out and meet others on campus.

Promote involvement in campus life. Not only do students need to feel connected to others, but also they need to feel connected to their schools. If they become involved in campus organizations, attend events, or work at a job on campus, they become invested in their own college experience.

Know and understand campus support services. Colleges offer many different kinds of services to aid students in adapting to college life. You can become familiar with these services by attending parents’ orientation, reading brochures, checking the college website, or calling campus staff members. That way, you can provide knowledgeable advice and point your students in the right direction if they appear to need help.

Reshape your relationship. This may be the hardest transition that you and your child will ever make. By reshaping your “parent-child” relationship to “parent-young adult” relationship, your teen will develop the freedom to make their own decisions about college and the future, as well as the confidence that comes with knowing that you are always there to help when needed.

As my husband and I sent each of our children off to college they had their own unique transitions and challenges. We had ours as well. However, the most important contributions that we made to their successful transition to college started long before they even entered high school. From their earliest years, we allowed our kids to make independent decisions appropriate to their ages and then held them accountable for the results. 

For example, when our children had homework in grade school, we didn’t constantly remind them nor did we do projects for them. When responsibility for completing homework is the student’s, they learn valuable time-management skills that serve them well into college and beyond.

Our children received modest allowances beginning in kindergarten. They learned to allocate their money and to save for bigger purchases. College students who aren’t used to budgeting and managing finances may soon find themselves seduced by readily available credit cards.We didn’t impose curfews on our children. Rather, we asked when we could expect them to be home and counted on them being there. Quite frankly, I think they set earlier curfews for themselves than we might have establishedand they made good choices that were their own.

Preparing academically for college begins many years before students take college admissions exams. And, in the same way, preparing for the independence of college living takes place over many years. As the wise saying goes, parents need to give their children both roots and wings. 

If, in the end, your student does decide to drop out of college, keep it in perspective. Dropping out is not an irreversible decision. Sometimes a student’s first-time college experience simply doesn’t work out. Help your student step back, re-evaluate, and start a new journey. Remember, there are many paths to success.


This article was written by Rose Rennekamp

Rose Rennekamp is the chairman of the board for the Iowa College Access Network and the former vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a Master of Education in guidance and counseling.

1 Comment

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