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The Best Advice for New College Students (Not From Me)

Even though I tend to think that we parents have worn out our welcome in the advice department by the time our kids go off to college, I am still full of hopes and ideas. My daughter Fiona, who just started college last week, got some really amazing send-off advice from her wise college counselor, Maria Morales-Kent. This is a woman who has more than two decades experience sending kids off to college. She’s seen where they stumble in their first few weeks, and she’s seen what helps. Here’s the gist of Maria’s wise advice for first-year college students:

One of the toughest challenges first-year college students face is homesickness. Even if you were dying to leave home, chances are you will miss it.

Believe it or not, you may also miss high school. Time and again, you may find yourself comparing your high school experience to every bit of your college experience and feeling sad.  Classes may seem large and impersonal; you might not get all the classes you want; professors may not even know when you are absent, or your roommate may turn out to be a challenge you never expected. Things like the weather may be a shock.

In fact, during our own Alumni Weekend, a recent college grad shared that he was never fully happy at his college because it never felt like home. But the truth of the matter is that college is not supposed to be like high school or home.

So, don’t focus on that.  Instead, focus on finding what makes your new home great for you.  It may be the new-found freedom and independence to choose your courses; it may be that a larger school translates to greater diversity, and you are finding not just one or two kids like you, but a whole community.

In the meantime, here is some advice that I hope will help:

1. Do not fall prey to comparisons

Regarding the food, orientation, the bathrooms, the dorms, the town or city, etc.  Take in each aspect of your college and be open to what makes it unique.

2. Make personal connections – don’t be shy, don’t hesitate.

      • Have at least a 5-minute conversation with each of your teachers during the first week of school.  Introduce yourself, comment on their lecture or readings, talk about your first few days on campus, etc.
      • Do the same in your dorm – walk around the halls and pop your head into an open door.  So many kids will be dying to talk with someone.
      • Find out about the clubs that might be of interest and go to the first meetings – and join in. 

3. Get help as soon as you need it.

      • Remember how much the tour guides talked about Faculty Office Hours? Use them.
      • If you are having trouble with a class or assignment, talk to your teacher right away.  Don’t let things build up.
      • If things aren’t working out with your roommate and it feels untenable, talk to your RA or Dorm Head.  There may be a very easy process in place to make a change or address the problem.

4. Meet with your advisor more than once.

In fact, after your first week of classes check in with them to share how you are doing – what you are finding hard or easy.  Help them get to know you. Realize that once you have a notion about what you want to study you can also begin to engage with faculty from that department. 

5. Meet the school’s Registrar.

They will be an invaluable source when it comes time to count your credits towards general education requirements, your major, or graduation.

6. If you are a financial aid recipient, go to the Financial Aid Office and find your advisor in the first week.

Introduce yourself and thank them for their work.  This will make access to them much easier if you have an issue in the future.

7. Most important: Take good care of yourself and always be safe.

Socially there will be lots of great things to do and people to meet. Temptations will be inevitable, and the consequences can be substantial. So be smart and thoughtful. 

Fiona called me yesterday to say that Ms. Kent was “right about everything.” I’m so happy that she’s taking Maria’s advice seriously!

Are you looking for advice yourself about sending a kid away to college? If so, perhaps you’ll like this post about helping kids deal with homesickness, or this one about how to deal with the sadness that inevitably comes when kids leave. Or this one, if you just want to reflect on all you taught your student before they left home. 

Maria Morales-Kent has been the Director of College Counseling at The Thacher School since 1997. Before that, she was an admission officer at the University of Pennsylvania.