Freshman Year in College: What to Expect

Cynthia Dermody
Big Kid
6

Back to School Guide

freshman year in college

Photo by home-sweet-home

As we count down the days to back to school, the Daily Buzz talks with moms and public school teachers about what you and your child can expect in the coming year.


Today college professor arthistmom and mother of two college students dorothyn22 give us the inside scoop about what to expect in the first year of college.

Behavioral Issues

arthistmom: There is a lot of growing up to do, especially emotionally. And much like any other developmental stage, behavior limits are being tested, so it comes as no surprise that college students engage in risky behavior involving illicit drugs and sex, for example.

dorothyn22: It is their first time away from home and away from parents. Watch out!  They want to be adults, but are still kids. Some handle it better than others. They will need to find a happy medium in there somewhere.

Social Scene

arthistmom: A college freshman will likely find herself exposed to diverse people in terms of interests, socioeconomic class, political views, etc., and she will establish friendships with some of them, which often will continue after college and become treasured relationships.

Let's face it, in college, there are parties as well as sex and drug use. However, to what extent depends on the college environment. The institutions considered "party schools" likely earn those reputations, while a small liberal arts college might be more focused on academics. (Though that's not to say that the students who attend the latter don't know how to have a good time.)

Parents can expect their first-year students to cast a wide net in terms of the courses they take and the activities in which they participate (including Greek life). They're trying to determine what they like and who they are.

dorothyn22: I've had two kids in college now. My daughter didn't make friends at school, but my son is my social butterfly, so it can go either way. While he made a lot of friends, he wasn't interested in the frats. He joined some Christian groups.  Parties weren't an issue for either of my kids (thank goodness), but it happened in the dorm and there are bars fairly close to campus. My kids just chose not to "indulge."

Academics

arthistmom: The goal of freshman level courses is to introduce students to the breadth and depth of college-level material and to hone their critical-thinking skills. Most first-year students will see a drop in grades in the first semester, if not the first academic year. This is partly due to getting accustomed to the college workload (which is much different from high school) and mastering the skill of time management and striking a balance between academics and personal life. My advice to students encountering difficulty in a course is to seek help from the professor (or teaching assistant) sooner rather than much later. Professors are more than happy to help; really, they want students to succeed.

dorothyn22: In the freshman year, it is best to take all of the basic courses. English, math, history, etc. -- the courses that are required of most of the majors. My son switched majors at semester. He was taking a lot of music classes and found that it wasn't for him. And now they won't count towards his new major, journalism. The workload wasn't too bad for him. His roommate was a engineering major and had tons of homework, so it depends on the major.

Discipline

arthistmom: The university or college's catalog or handbook will make very clear the nature of student infractions and the consequences of them. This issue will be covered in freshman orientation, as well. The offense faculty are always on the look out for is plagiarism and other types of academic dishonesty (cheating, unauthorized collaboration, etc.), which, unfortunately, are becoming more common.

Institutions of higher learning take these offenses very seriously because not only do they violate academic integrity, they also present a breach of the trust of the intellectual community in which all members have a mutual responsibility to seek knowledge honestly and in good faith. Students who are found guilty of these violations are subject to disciplinary sanctions, which may include failure in the course and suspension from the school.

Finances

dorothyn22:  Both my kids worked during school, at least for their spending money. If something major comes up, we will help, but for everyday spending, i.e. meals off-campus, trips to the mall, etc., that's on them. My daughter found a job off-campus, and my son is working at the campus newspaper.

What is the biggest challenge for college freshmen?

arthistmom: Striking a balance between academics and social life, and time management. It is a rare freshman who's ever gotten this right from the very start.

dorothyn22: I think finding where they fit in, finding new friends, interests, but still staying true to themselves and their values. Trying to be popular, but not doing things they know are wrong.  And, being an adult and a kid at the same time. Balancing time between school work, fun time and working is hard. Then, to have the whole college experience and not go overboard.

What's the best way for a mom to keep in touch with their college kid?

arthistmom: Although it's tempting to check up on one's child at college all the time, I would advise against it. Same goes for unannounced visits. Since keeping in touch is definitely important, I would advise instead a schedule previously agreed upon: once a week on Sunday evenings, or Tuesday and Friday afternoons, for example. This way, parental communication becomes part of the student's schedule and it gives both parties something to look forward to. Though this is not to say that an unexpected call from a parent or occasional care package from home isn't welcome.

With regard to visits, a schedule can also be agreed upon, with the child coming home for Thanksgiving and/or spring break, for example. Colleges and universities also plan parents' weekends, which allow families to experience some aspect of college life with their children.

dorothyn22: IMing worked great with my daughter, not so much with my son. I would e-mail or call and leave a message on his phone. Of course, they were only 30 minutes from home and I work in the town where they were going to school. They were able to come to my workplace and have lunch with me about once a week or so, if our schedules worked out.

What was the hardest part about sending a kid off to college?

dorothyn22: Letting go! OMG, that was hard. But we have placed the groundwork and now it's time to let the little birdies fly. And, at the same time, it is fun to see what choices they make, where they go from here.

Anything else that a mom of an incoming college freshmen should know?

dorothyn22: Check the bill carefully. Last year, they tried to charge us twice as much for the cafeteria plan. And don't go overboard on the dorm room supplies, since there isn't much room to store extra stuff.

arthistmom: Relax (a little). You've worked hard to help your children reach this point, and you certainly deserve kudos for a job well done. But now it's time for them to find their own way.

What was the college freshman experience like for you and your child?

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