FAMILY ADJUSTMENT TO
THE UNIVERSITY EXPERIENCE
October—How Not to
By Dr. Tami James Moore (email@example.com)
initial excitement and anticipation of being a First Year Student starts to
fade. Activities and events welcoming
new students to campus made them feel special—and they still are. But now, after five weeks of classes, activities,
and a possible trip home over Labor Day Weekend (where the entire family
experienced that new awkwardness of “child as guest”), your student is facing
Life in the Residence Hall
Even under the best of
circumstances, weeks of living with a roommate evolve into conflicts of one
kind or another by early October. The
“honeymoon phase” is over. Little things the roommate does or doesn’t do start
to look big and irritating. Both begin
vocalizing likes and dislikes as the communication relaxes and
intensifies. Both students are feeling
the stress of increasing academic challenges and touches of homesickness. This new tension often resembles sibling
squabbles, and if not confronted quickly, can escalate to ugly.
your student to vent to you. Determine
what is 1) serious, 2) important and 3) trivial. Serious situations like roommate
drug use, rule breaking, and other dangerous activities need to be addressed
immediately. The residence halls have
policies and people in place and should be contacted as directed in the
handbook. The Resident Assistant or Hall
Director is a good point of first contact.
If your student is reluctant to take this step, offer to support him/her
in the process. Don’t discount their reluctance to report. Your student is trying to find his/her place
in this new social system, and alienating a roommate is a serious step with
possible long-lasting negative ramifications.
But, as the adult, you need to work with UNK to ensure your student’s
situations--like a roommate’s continued disrespect of your student’s
need for quiet sleep, cleanliness, and boundaries--need to be addressed or they
will escalate. This should be
student-initiated, though. It is an
opportunity for you and your student to discuss appropriate action, but for you
to step back and take the role of coach, not player. Encourage your student to 1) choose the most
important battles and 2) generate several possible positive solutions before
they initiate such discussions with the roommate. Again, the Resident Assistants and other
members of the Residence Life staff have training in conflict negotiation and
are good resources for your student.
situations are often the small things that escalate into major issues
that are really being used to “start the real arguments”. The roommate hits the snooze button too many
times. He/she never takes out the trash. The cell phone ringtone is obnoxious. Help
your student realize that we all do little things that irritate others. Encourage him/her to make positive
suggestions or to “switch triggers”—I’ll quit doing X if you will quit doing
Y”. Help them realize how hurtful
comments or requests about personal behaviors can be.
The New Circle of
Some students may decide
quickly that their roommates are new “best friends”, but many will categorize
them as new “friends”. Roommates who
knew each other before coming to UNK may be discovering that good friends
shouldn’t try to be roommates. While UNK
is an academic setting, it is important to acknowledge how much of the college
experience is SOCIAL. For students
coming from large, urban school settings, this new social situation is much
like moving from middle school to high school—new friendships will be forged
and old friendships will wane. For
students coming from smaller, more rural settings, they may have been in the
same group of friends from Kindergarten to graduation. For some students, making friends is easy and
fun. For others it is work and stressful.
your student to talk about new and old friends with you. Let them know that each life stage will
present this same opportunity to them.
Console them when relationships end (and this may be a time when new
romances sputter, fizzle, or flame) and encourage them to share new friendships
Tests, and Grade Checks
By now your student has
realized that university classes are very different from high school
classes. It is important that you
understand that, in a college-setting, each professor has the right and the
responsibility to create, deliver, and grade his/her course. If your student has five courses, there may
be five completely different “syllabi”, or sets of expectations to
navigate. There is no single grading
scale, textbook, or standardized set of materials. It is much like reporting to 5 different
student may have had one or more disappointing test or project grades. It may take that first test to understand
what to expect in future situations.
Encourage your student to make necessary adjustments and NOT to dwell
on, but to make efforts to correct their approaches to course preparation. Reality check—you may not get all A’s! This is very stressful to students who have
always had stellar high school GPAs. In
these situations, it may be very important for you, as their support system, to
come to terms with this also. If your student is in an organization that
requires “grade checks”, they will have completed at least one by this
point. Encourage them to share this with
you only if you are prepared to be supportive.
They have time to make great improvements. Suggest that they make appointments to meet
with faculty about their concerns and then ask them how those meetings went. It is not uncommon for students to have
multiple tests scheduled during the week before Fall Break (Oct. 8-12th). This may be an especially stressful week.
that federal law (FERPA) prevents faculty from discussing your student’s
performance with you. Even if you are
part of the PASS program, do not call faculty directly with your concerns. The relationship between your student and his
or her professors is an important part of their continued success.
13th to 16th may be the first extended visit students
make to their home communities. Unlike
Spring Break, there are few recreational vacation-type excursions available at
this time. Families will need to
renegotiate expectations. College
students may have different time schedules (up late, sleep in) and have become
accustomed to making their own decisions about social activities and
schedules. If parents insist on curfews
and rigid time schedules, they can expect some resistance. Just as you counseled him/her about picking
battles with roommates, you need to model by selecting your battles carefully,
too. Focus time and energy on making
this time together restful and memorable.
Soon after their return to
campus from break, your student will be meeting with an advisor to select
courses for the spring semester. UNK is
working diligently to have 4-year plans in place for all majors by next
year. This advising session allows the
student to independently, but under the guidance of a professional, determine a
plan of degree completion and select courses needed from multiple sections
under different times and instructors.
Freshmen are generally the last students to gain access to the on-line
enrollment site and they MUST meet with an advisor before they can process
their spring enrollment. They may be considering changing their program of
study and may seek your advice. Help
them explore options available, but do not pressure them to be in a major that
appeals to you. Parents want the best
for their children, but sometimes “best” doesn’t equate to the highest income
or most prestigious fields. Work with
your student to discover his/her passion.
Faculty and staff at UNK can help align a program of study with both
career goals and personal interests.
Fall Health Bugs
Campus is a bug-friendly
place—and I’m not referring to bed bugs!
Germs are well-fed and distributed in classrooms, restrooms, commons
areas, and cafeterias. October is often
characterized by the “first wave of illness”.
Encourage your student to eat well and on a regular basis, to exercise,
and to maintain diligence in the war against disease. This may be the first time your child has
been ill without your presence.
Communicate with them and offer your guidance and support. If you feel that they may need medical
assistance, encourage them to visit the Student Health Center. The professional staff at the center is first-rate
and will help your student determine if further medical help is necessary. If so, they can help connect your child with
area health providers.
Well, that is a lot of information! The first-year experience at any university
is packed with adjustment problems and successes! You are over the half-way mark for the first
semester! Congratulations and Best
Dr. Tami James Moore
Professor of Family Studies—UNK
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