How Parents Can Help Their Child Navigate Their First Year of College
Starting the journey of adulthood in a new environment like college can be intimidating and overwhelming for any child. Whether you’re driving your child to a new state or down the street to their new living situation, you may not be able to avoid worrying about how they’ll navigate these unfamiliar waters. As a child of immigrants and the first person in my family to go to college, there are things I wish I knew beforehand that I had to learn the hard way and on my own.
Whether you’ve attended college yourself or your child is the first in the family to do so, here are four pieces of advice to set your child up for success in their first year of college.
1. Build Community
Being a new kid in college is different than being a new kid in high school. In college, your child is one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people walking around campus every day. So, when it comes to making new friends and building community, where should they begin?
One thing you can do is sit down with your child and look up campus events, cultural/political/academic clubs, religious/spiritual groups, recreational sports, or student-led organizations that focus on community service, professional development, or social justice.
Personally, finding communities that aligned with my career goals or personal values helped shape me as an individual and provided me a space to be myself. Encourage your child to select one or two clubs within—or even outside—their personal and academic interest! Once they know where to look, your child will likely start building confidence and take the initiative to seek opportunities on their own, slowly growing a community of friends and network of peers in the process.
2. Develop Time Management Skills
Developing time management skills may be one of the hardest things your child will have to learn, and it was no different for me. In addition to attending classes, I worked full-time, participated in extracurricular activities, and tended to personal and family responsibilities all while meeting coursework expectations. Balancing work and life can easily become the most overwhelming thing your child will deal with, so how can you help?
Take the time to help them schedule their week out in a physical planner. Every child manages their time differently, and they’ll likely discover new strategies to do so, but there are weekly timesheets online you can print as a place to start. You can guide them through these steps, but be sure to let them do the actual scheduling:
To begin, block out the times they will be attending class and work.Next, block out extracurricular activities, commitments, and meetings.Then, take a step back and have your child list their to-dos for the week, such as completing assignments or preparing for an exam.Go back to the schedule and block out dedicated time to do coursework or study.Finally, carve out time to rest and unwind.
By taking the time to plan out the week, they visualize their workload while reflecting on what is important to prioritize each day, such as studying for a class or carving out time for their well-being. Note that this schedule doesn’t have to be adhered to exactly—it should be a tool that helps them develop a routine and allows them to reflect on their time in college.
3. Develop Personal Finance Skills
Financial literacy is an incredibly valuable skill set that your child must develop, regardless of whether your family is planning to take out loans or they are working toward becoming financially independent during college. Not everyone has the foresight to develop these skills early—even now, as I approach my thirties, I’m developing skills that I wish I had learned in my twenties.
If you find yourself bound for time or unsure how to share financial knowledge, check your child’s university for resources, or see if personal coaching is available. Take some time with your child to look up “financial literacy courses for college students” or “personal finances for college students” to find courses offered by the university, city, or online. These types of resources can go a long way in helping your child gain financial independence. In addition to finding resources, don’t be afraid to have discussions about money or share stories about financial hardships you had to face to illustrate how to learn from your mistakes—and be sure to explain what you would do differently with what you know now. These conversations as a family are valuable and priceless and will help set your child up for long-term success.
4. Mental Health and Well-Being
Remember: Your child is in a new environment, away from home, and managing a full schedule while surrounded by strangers and new challenges. There will be times when everything will feel like too much for your child. As a parent, one of the best things you can do is maintain an open line of communication with your child and position yourself as someone they can depend on. Support can look different depending on your child’s needs or the struggle they are facing at the moment: you can mail a care package of their favorite things, provide a listening ear for their frustrations, or welcome them into a space to take a break from college. If they need some outside help, you can point your child toward mental health resources, such as a therapist or well-being coach. Most universities provide these services, and if not, you can help them find a suitable professional through online providers such as Better Help.
At the end of the day, I hope you walk away with the assurance that you can help your child not only survive but thrive during their college experience and know that there are resources out there to help you help your child. Neither you nor your child has to go through this transition alone.
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