Congrats! You beat college move-in day and your student is officially a freshman at the university of their choice. For them, it's a new environment, new experiences every day, and a whole lot of new rules — and it will definitely take some getting used to. This means your freshman may not act the same as they did before and that has nothing to do with you (or how much they love you).
To save your kid from having to constantly repeat and defend themselves, here are some things your college freshman may want you to know (from someone who's just recently been there).
1. Gifts? Yes, Please!
Gifts are so very appreciated. It could be a new shirt, a care package, or literally any item in the world. Your freshman may be in dire need of a new outfit or pair of shoes for an event, but has no time to do anything. If you're wondering what your college kid needs, maybe take them shopping when you can as well! Surprise them with something and see how grateful they’ll be.
Sending fun items in the mail reminds us that we’ve got love back home and that we aren’t alone on campus.
2. Let Us Figure It Out
We aren’t your little babes anymore! Let us make our own choices and mistakes. We need the opportunity to make our own decisions and learn from our experiences, and what better time than college? While on campus, there will be numerous — if not a seemingly endless amount — of decisions to be made by your freshman. Try not to be a helicopter parent. We need to learn how to do this stuff on our own.
We do need guidance, just not assertiveness and discipline. We’ve already had enough of that during childhood!
3. Patience Is Key
One of the worst things you can tell your freshman is that you miss how they "used to be." Juggling academics, social life, and self-care can be challenging, and feeling like they need to live up to additional expectations from family, while navigating college life, can feel suffocating. Your patience and understanding can go a long way to helping them adjust to this new world.
Every interaction with your freshman may not be joyful and upbeat, so please consider this when they don’t sound the "same" on a check-in phone call. People change when their environment changes — and that holds true for college as well.
4. We Love You Even If We Don’t Call
A lack of phone calls does not equate to a lack of love. We love you just as much as we did as high schoolers. We might appreciate you even more because we miss you now! But phone calls back home are the last thing on our minds when on campus.
Coming into a new environment means learning how to adapt, and this alone takes up a lot of time. On top of that, there's making new friends, creating a new lifestyle, and having a workload that’s much more stressful than the one in high school was.
When your college freshman is finally calm enough to pick up and call, please don’t hit them with the "so now you remember us," conversation — it may be the last time you hear from them for a while.
5. Money Helps
Trust me when I say finances are tough. Even though you tell us to manage our money, it rarely happens successfully, at least for the first half of the year. The money that you thought would get your freshman through an entire year of college will probably only get them through three months.
Prices of, quite literally, everything have skyrocketed in the past couple of years and your freshman will likely (unintentionally) run through a lot of money in a short period. More expensive things, like Ubers or the "good-tasting" water bottles, tend to draw the attention of new students because their newfound freedom clouds good judgment. I am fully guilty of this.
Maybe send your freshman a couple of 20s here and there to get them by. I promise it helps more than you know.
6. We Need Space to Figure Out the Future
What about the future? Half of the time, we don’t know. Roughly one in four students change their major freshman year. Remember, we’re teenagers! We are still young and trying to figure out life and how to navigate it.
A bit of advice for parents of college students: if you ask your freshman what they have planned for their future and they shrug and say "I don’t know," it's a good idea to inquire no further and change the topic immediately! Discussions about career goals and life after college can be helpful, but college freshman also need space to explore their options.
7. Healthy Habits Can Be Hard
I, and so many other students as well, have fallen victim to the notorious Freshman 15. Maintaining a healthy routine while at college can be difficult. Physical health may not be as much of a priority as academics or a social life.
If they're up studying until 3 a.m., students will often grab the closest snack for fuel as opposed to making themselves a healthy and balanced meal. If your freshman comes home and looks a little different, please do not pry or make them feel ashamed. Don’t add to their stress, but be their support.
8. Home Is Where the Heart Is
Home-cooked meals are great. Dining hall food will get very old very fast. French fries and pizza with stale tomato sauce can only fuel you for so long! Homemade meals always have more love in them — and seasoning too!
Whenever it’s possible for family to swing by and drop off some extra food from home, it’s always appreciated and makes us feel like we’re loved and cared for. But that brings me to my next point.
9. Chill Out!
Please try not to visit excessively. We don't want to feel like we're back at home. Your freshman loves you, they do, but you don’t need to stop by every weekend to confirm this. Space and boundaries are important when it comes to their first year of college and should be put in place so your student isn’t overwhelmed.
If your freshman is the one excessively visiting home, remind them that at some point, they’ll need to learn to adapt to their newfound independence.
It's a Journey
As someone who has already completed their freshman year of college, these are some of the things my friends and I would have liked our familes to know. Of course, each freshman is different, and not all students feel the same way. Still, I hope this is useful as a rough guide as you support your baby on this leg of their journey.
It can be helpful to chat with your freshman about what they want and need before sending 'em off to college! My advice? Take it easy. Take it one step at a time. The journey will be bumpy, but it’ll all be worth it in the end.