Sending your child off to college is a significant milestone for parents and students. It begins a new chapter filled with exciting opportunities, personal growth, and newfound independence. However, the transition to college life can be challenging, and many first-year students experience what is commonly known as the “Freshman Adjustment Struggle.” This phenomenon occurs when students arrive on campus without a strong connection to their new environment. As parents, it’s essential to be aware of this potential struggle and to offer support and guidance. In this article, we’ll explore what parents may observe and discuss several strategies to help their freshman overcome this challenging phase.

Recognizing the Signs

When your freshman first arrives at college, it’s essential to be attentive to their emotional and social well-being. Signs of the Freshman Adjustment Struggle may include:

  1. A sense of isolation or loneliness.
  2. Difficulty making friends or finding a sense of belonging.
  3. Homesickness and longing for the comfort of home.
  4. Academic challenges due to the stress of adjusting to a new environment.
  5. A general feeling of unease or discontent with their college experience.

 

Understanding these signs will enable you to provide the right support and help your child navigate this challenging phase effectively.

Strategies for Parents

Be Curious and Ask Questions

Allow your child to figure this out – ask who can you talk to? What professors or advisors do you trust to get some guidance from? What strategies will be helpful for you right now? Get them thinking about their own solutions and problem-solving skills! Don’t think FOR them. 

Encourage Writing

Writing can be a powerful tool for self-reflection and expression. Encourage your freshman to write about their college experience, both the positives and the challenges. Have them articulate what feels like a good fit and what they believe they are missing. Review their writings together, and this process can help them gain clarity and a better understanding of their feelings.

Step Out of The Drama Triangle.

Do not get wrapped up in the everyday drama. It’s up to them to navigate the system (like not getting into a class they wanted). 

Allow for adversity and hardship. Only some problems need to be comfortably solved by a parent. 

Explore Ways to Make the Current Setting Work

Sometimes, the struggle with adjustment can be alleviated by making small changes. Share stories from your college experience, highlighting moments when you didn’t feel connected immediately. Normalize their feelings and encourage them to explore different activities and groups or even consider changing their major if it doesn’t align with their interests. Your child must understand that adjustment takes time and that their experience is entirely normal.

When to Make a Left Turn

If a struggle turns into dysfunction, such as sitting in a room all day, engaging in regular substance abuse, or having depressive or anxious thoughts that interfere with everyday life, then professional help is needed. 

If a struggle is due to an ill fit of a college setting, such as classes that are not aligning with how your child learns or the major they want to pursue isn’t offered, or there is an ill-fitting social environment or a systemic issue which prevents safety or belonging, then a new college placement is necessary. In this case, work with your child to create a wish list for a new college placement. Discuss their preferred areas of study, how they envision their classes and social groups, and the type of living experience they desire. Visit other college programs to help solidify their plans. This process can empower them to take charge of their education and ensure they are in an environment where they can thrive.

Support and Validation

Above all, as a parent, you can use your relationship as a place to validate and process emotions. 

Conclusion

The Freshman Adjustment Struggle can be experienced by many college students as they embark on their academic journey. As parents, your role is essential in providing support, understanding, and guidance. By being curious, encouraging self-expression and autonomy, stepping out of drama, being away from saving from adversity, and exploring potential solutions, you can help your freshman overcome this challenging phase and embrace college life’s opportunities. Remember that adjustment takes time, and with your support, your child will find their place in their new community.

If you require further assistance or have additional questions, consider consulting our Parent Educator, Meredith Bluestine, who can offer personalized guidance.