St. Mary's College of Maryland

A Year at College: Heads up for Parents

Along with the thrill of learning and the euphoria of young adulthood, college brings challenges. The typical college year has cycles of ups and downs in the level of challenge and stress experienced by students. Below is an outline of an academic year, emphasizing some common problem areas identified by the College's student affairs personnel. Challenges vary according to the individual, the time of year, and the academic class of the student. The more aware that parents are of the tides of the semester, the more they can do to normalize their student's experiences and help them through them.

Possible September Challenges

  • Adjusting to sharing a room, sharing a bathroom and living in a residence hall.
  • Getting to know roommates, making rules for the room, and adjusting expectations.
  • Homesickness, especially for those who have never lived away from home or have had a very stable childhood. Missing the strong friendships left behind at home or in high school. This may induce "melt-down calls" to parents.
  • Getting to know new people, making college friends, and finding an initial niche (someone to go to meals with, someone to hang out with).
  • Setting expectations for long-distance romantic relationships.
  • Taking care of daily personal responsibilities without parental direction or support: buying books, waking up for class, doing laundry, eating and sleeping well, managing money, caring for one's own health, housekeeping, etc.
  • Challenges of managing freedom. Making lifestyle decisions regarding drug and alcohol experimentation, morality, class attendance, and social pressures.
  • Finding the pace of college academics, how much time it takes for the college work load, and how to balance it with co-curricular activities and a social life.

Possible October Challenges

  • Dealing with the intensification of academic demands and the necessity for study skills and time management. Grades begin to come in.
  • Mid-term exams and term papers are all due at once.
  • Taking care of one's health as cold season and stress-related illnesses arise.
  • Most first-year students have an initial group of friends; others experience tension as friendships shift to other groups. Some may experience loneliness or disillusionment as the adjustment process is unfolding.
  • Early college romances may fizzle.
  • Family Weekend (October 5 - 6, 2012) may be the first opportunity for students to see their families since coming to college.  This could be exciting and/or stressful as both students and families need to be respectful of the time spent apart, changes in family dynamics, new living experiences, and a new-found sense of freedom.
  • For students and their families, Fall Break (October 8 - 9, 2012) is often the first trip home from school, and families must reconnect and redefine expectations.
  • Long distance romantic relationships may become more of a challenge.

Possible November-December Challenges

  • Deciding on courses for the Spring, pre-registration.
  • Taking care of one's health as colds and stress-related illnesses may increase around finals time.
  • Some first-year students may not yet have found a group of friends or a niche that feels comfortable, and may feel anxious about this and question their college choice.
  • Budgeting money for planned holiday gifts and travel expenses.
  • Finding a job for Winter Break employment.
  • Excitement and managing time as final papers and tests demand time alongside seasonal parties, social service projects, and religious activities.
  • Finishing papers and studying for final exams.
  • Pre-existing roommate and social tensions may increase as all students are under stress.
  • For college romantic relationships, deciding how to weather the four-week separation.
  • Apprehension for those who have concerns for family, those who have no home to visit, and for those who prefer not to go home because of family conflicts.

Possible January - February Challenges

  • Readjusting to school and again being away from the security of home and friends.
  • Those with a tendency to seasonal depression may go into a slump due to weather, darkness, and lack of outdoor activities.
  • For first-year students, college may have lost some of its initial charm and novelty.
  • Adjusting friendships, as some students leave to study abroad, or change roommates.
  • St. Mary's Project deadlines are approaching and may cause stress for seniors.
  • Transfer students begin the process of making friends and finding a niche.
  • Winter illnesses and snow days may challenge academic time management.

Possible March Challenges

  • Managing time as mid-term papers and tests demand time alongside seasonal parties, planning for Spring Break, social service projects, and religious activities.
  • Mid-term exams and term papers are all due at once. Grades are coming in.
  • Pre-existing roommate and social tensions may increase as all students are stressed.
  • For seniors, finishing their St. Mary's Project on time.
  • Making decisions about Spring Break, money issues, job or peer trip plans.
  • Spring Break provides needed relief for students who need time to relax.
  • Taking care of one's health as allergy season starts.
  • Determining whom to room with and where for the Fall semester are of great importance, as deadlines approach.

Possible April Challenges

  • Many students experience optimism because the school year is perceived as on the "downhill slope."
  • Spring fever sets in: Managing time as a full activities calendar comes and academic demands continue to increase.
  • Looking for summer jobs and housing.
  • Pre-existing roommate and social tensions may increase as all students are stressed, particularly seniors.
  • Deciding on courses for the Fall, pre-registration, and choosing a major.
  • Anticipation and also sadness as the end of the school year nears, particularly for seniors.

Possible May Challenges

  • Completing unfinished work, taking final exams.
  • Solidifying plans for summer school, travel, work, and housing.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and planning on how to keep in contact over the summer.
  • Deciding the destiny of romantic relationships for the summer.
  • Making the transition back to living at home and maintaining college identity and independence.

Patience and understanding on the part of the family at home can go a long way in empowering first-year students to ride these tides of the academic year.