Parent and Family Handbook

What to Expect in Their First Year

August

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They are adjusting to a new life, new responsibilities, new relationships, new roommates, and new freedoms. The first six weeks of college are a challenging time for new students who are trying to make these adjustments all at once.
  • They are excited about moving away from home, but may also be homesick.
  • They may be insecure about fitting in, being as smart as everyone else, or navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
  • They are separated from friends, loved ones, and familiar surroundings.
  • They’re unsure of what to expect academically—the unknown workload and expectations from faculty.
  • They’re starting over. They are no longer well known in their school setting--no one here knows their former status in high school (this may be a relief for some students; a concern for others).

What Parents Can Do:

  • Accept your changing role as a parent. Your new role is likely to be that of a mentor, providing support, encouragement, advice, and guidance, without the control you once had. This is another stage of life, and your role as a parent does not stop—it just changes.
  • Set realistic expectations for your student regarding academics, financial responsibility, social involvement, drinking, and drugs. Discuss these expectations in a non-judgmental manner, and be open to listening as well. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Encourage your student to be independent and responsible. Be an empathic listener but refrain from ‘coming to the rescue’ when problems arise. By teaching your students how to solve their own problems, you will demonstrate that you have confidence in them. Encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions and accept the consequences, and let your student know they have your trust.
  • Become familiar with college resources so that you can direct your student to the appropriate resources for assistance.
  • Encourage your student to become a part of the college by joining student groups and attending residence hall or campus-wide events.
  • Listen and provide reassurance when communicating with your student. Remind them that these adjustments and feelings are normal.

September

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They are questioning their identity, pushing boundaries, and experimenting with new things. Experimenting may include challenging previous beliefs about religion or politics, experimenting with alcohol/drugs or sexual activity, and challenging social norms.
  • They may have trouble managing time. In September, it’s common for students to have a false sense of comfort because papers and projects aren’t due until October, and this may lead to procrastination.
  • They’re learning about opportunities to get involved with campus groups.
  • They’re starting to understand that what worked for high school academics won’t necessarily work for college, and that a new level of work is expected. This may result in feelings of inadequacy, and they may ask themselves, “Can I really make it here?”
  • Some may be experiencing roommate conflicts.
  • A new trend with college students is an increased dependence on high school friends, which enables them to avoid getting involved with new people and the Macalester community. Cell phones, email, and instant messaging now make it easier than ever to keep in touch with old friends at other colleges, and it can result in an increased feeling of ‘not fitting in’ at college.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Listen to your student’s concerns and be reassuring. Don’t tell your student that these are the best years of their life. Be prepared for the “dump” phone call late at night. Students need to vent frustrations or fears, and you will be the dumping ground. Recognize that having feelings is normal, as is the tendency to vent the feelings to a parent. In most cases, your student will feel much better after having vented to you, but you are left feeling worried.
  • Encourage your student to get involved with campus groups. It’s easy to meet new people at college, but students must make the effort. Those who lock themselves in their room and sit at the computer instant messaging old friends or playing video games are going to have a hard time connecting to the new environment, and soon will feel that they don’t ‘fit in’ here.
  • Provide your student with time management techniques, or refer them to the MAX Center or the Health and Wellness Center for time management and stress-reduction information.
  • Continue conversations about alcohol use. In the first six weeks first year students are vulnerable to pressure to ‘fit in,’ and sometimes they perceive this to mean drinking. Discuss the consequences of making poor choices when it comes to alcohol, including trouble with classes, increased risk of sexual assault and violence, trouble with the law, possible negative impacts on professional school or employment opportunities, and even death.
  • Encourage your student to become involved in the numerous alcohol-free social events on campus, and to avoid risky drinking behaviors. Keep the lines of communication open on an adult-to-adult level, and avoid being judgmental.
  • Help keep disappointments (such as not being selected for a particular activity or not becoming ‘best friends’ with a roommate) in perspective. Refer him/her to support services on campus if additional support is needed.


October

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They’re stressed out about tests and midterms. They may have fallen behind in September because they weren’t accustomed to the type of time management skills required for college.
  • They may receive the first college grades on papers and projects. This helps students to understand what professors expect of them. It also means that students realize that they are no longer ‘top of the class,’ and students who once got all A's now get B's and C's. Students may feel like a failure or lose self-esteem because they are unaccustomed to receiving poor grades.
  • They’re facing competing social demands. Students who got involved in too many campus organizations may have trouble balancing the demands of the organizations with the demands of coursework.
  • They’ll begin to work on papers and must learn to navigate a college library system. The library system is an important campus resource, but because it is different from libraries that they have used in the past, it may be intimidating.
  • They are learning to manage their own money, and may have trouble sticking to a budget. College presents many pressures to spend money—pizza, movies, clothes, etc.—and they may run out of money sooner than expected.

    What Parents Can Do:
  • Be sympathetic, but try not to “fix” problems for the student. By letting your students fix their own problems, you will demonstrate that you have confidence in them, and help them to have self confidence.
  • Help them to be realistic about academic achievement in a college environment. It is common for Macalester students to experience a full point drop from their high school grade point average, e.g., students who were 4.0 students in high school may only be 3.0 students at Macalester.
  • Direct your student to college resources for assistance with papers and assignments. There are many resources designed to assist students with their academic struggles. You can also encourage your student to go to professors’ and preceptors’ office hours, or to seek help from librarians or the MAX Center who are trained to assist students with college level work/expectations.
  • Visit during Family Fest Weekend. But don’t expect him/her to drop everything for your weekend on campus. Plan to attend some events alone.
  • Help your student to establish a budget and teach her/him how to stick to it. Most high school students have a limited understanding of money management, and this lack of knowledge and experience continues in college. Educate her/him on financial responsibility before the lack of responsibility becomes a problem.

November

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They may get sick as the change in Minnesota’s weather brings on cold and flu season.
  • Stress levels are high as midterms continue, and many papers and projects are also due. They also begin to realize that the semester is almost over. Procrastinators may panic as they face the consequences of falling behind in coursework. Students may pull “all-nighters” to get work done.
  • First-year students will begin course planning for registration in December.
  • They may continue to struggle with time management and balancing social activities with academics.
  • Some students may have concerns about going home for Thanksgiving, especially if the student has changed dramatically since the last time they saw their parents.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Be supportive and encouraging. Refer to college resources such as the Health and Wellness Center if she/he is sick or in need of counseling services. Encourage a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, sleep, diet, and relaxation.
  • Send care packages. Remember to include cold/flu medications, tissues, cough drops, and anything needed to keep warm and dry as the winter approaches.
  • Be available to listen to her/his concerns when (s)he contacts you, but don’t worry if your student doesn’t call/write/e-mail as often as you would like. (S)he may be too wrapped up in school to remember to contact home.
  • Be supportive of his/her academic progress without focusing on grades. Ask open-ended questions about what (s)he’s learning, or why certain topics interest him/her, instead of asking about grades on tests or papers.
  • Encourage your student to see his/her academic advisor before registering for classes, and to make appointments early to avoid complications.
  • Prepare yourself for changes when your student returns home for Thanksgiving. The first year of college is a period of tremendous change and growth, and students demonstrate this change in different ways—new haircut, new piercings, tattoos, changes in religious or political beliefs, etc. Your student will appreciate your support, rather than criticism, through this changing time. Recognize that while (s)he may be going through many changes, in the long run, (s)he will probably maintain many of the core values that you instilled in her/him.

December

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • After Thanksgiving, there is very little time until finals. Papers and projects are due, and they may be the longest papers or projects that students have ever done. Students will continue to be stressed.
  • Students may get very little sleep, and neglect proper nutrition or exercise.
  • Many students may be concerned about the pressures of upcoming holidays, or returning home to live with the family after a semester of independence.
  • They’ll be stressed about finals. For first-year students, this will be their first college finals and they’ll have the added fear of the unknown.
  • Some students will have financial concerns, as the money they budgeted for the semester runs out earlier than planned. They may turn to credit cards to help them in their budget crunch.
  • They’ll probably sleep a lot over the winter break, as they try to ‘catch up’ on four months’ worth of lost sleep!

What Parents can Do:

  • Be supportive during this stressful time, and send care packages and mail. Snacks and special foods from home are always welcome this time of year.
  • Encourage healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise habits to help reduce the stress of college exam time. Healthy habits will also help your student to prevent illness as the winter sets in.
  • Be knowledgeable about campus resources and refer him/her to the college’s support services and resources for personal and academic help.
  • Encourage participation in study break activities offered on campus. These are great ways for students to relax.
  • Discuss home ‘rules’ and expectations for the Winter Break as soon as (s)he returns home or, preferably, before! Don’t wait for a conflict to arise before communicating with her/him. Students who have been making their own decisions for four months may find it difficult to suddenly succumb to their parents’ control again. Many parents have expectations about time spent with the family, which conflicts with student expectations to spend time with old friends.

January

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students return to campus after the Winter Break. Many will feel homesick as they return to campus; others will feel relieved to get back to their independent lifestyle.
  • They will receive their grades from Fall Term and will either feel disappointed or delighted. Parental reactions to the grades weigh heavily on their minds and influence their stress level as they anticipate a new term. Whether the grades were good or bad, they will have a better understanding of what college work requires.
  • The residence hall reapplication process begins for students who plan to live in the residence halls for another year, and students must choose between staying in the same room and requesting a new room and/or roommate.
  • There will be uncertainties in the new semester, as students begin new classes and meet new professors.
  • Some students will make plans for study-abroad programs.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Be supportive of your student regardless of the Fall Term grades. If grades were poor, refer him/her to the college’s resources for help in future academic struggles. Remind him/her of your academic and class attendance expectations, but also keep those expectations realistic given the level of academic difficulty at Macalester.
  • Remind your student to keep up with coursework. Many students find that falling behind early in the term is a major cause of stress and failures later on in the term. Help with time management tips so that academics, social activities and personal time are balanced.
  • Direct your student to the Residential Life Office for information about the residence hall reapplication process.
  • Refer to the Study Abroad Office for information about study and work abroad opportunities.

February

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students may be depressed as the cold weather and lack of sunshine continues.
  • They’ll start taking midterms, and some papers or projects may be due.
  • Many students neglect their health and exercise plans.
  • Students may get ‘Cabin Fever’ due to being indoors. This causes some students to be anxious, tense, distracted, or frustrated with people around them—especially roommates.
  • Student organizations demand a lot of time from students. As a result, students who have trouble with their time management skills may feel overcommitted and overwhelmed.
  • Some students have relationship anxiety, especially around Valentine's Day.
  • Students make plans for Spring Break. This may lead to financial concerns for some. Others may feel envious of their friends who are going to places warm and exotic. This may also lead to disagreements with family over different expectations for how and where this vacation will be spent.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Encourage your student to actively enjoy the winter. Building a snowman, going sledding, or ice skating could be the perfect study break! Students who learn to enjoy the winter, instead of dreading it, are better able to fight off ‘cabin fever’ or the winter blues. Of course, if those winter blues turn into something more serious, refer her/him to the Health and Wellness Center, where trained staff can help her/him cope with stress, depression, and more.
  • Support your student as they try to balance academics and extracurricular activities. Encourage your student to seek assistance from the on-campus resources, including the faculty. Advise your student to go to office hours and to get to know the faculty.
  • Send care packages. Valentine’s Day is an excellent time for you to let your student know that you’re thinking about her/him.
  • Listen and support his/her relationship or roommate concerns.
  • Refer your student to the Resident Advisor if roommate conflicts cannot be resolved, and to the Health and Wellness Center if relationship concerns are severe and interfere with academics.
  • Discuss plans and expectations for Spring Break. Talk about who’s paying for the vacation, whether or not it will be spent with the family or friends, and about making responsible choices regarding behavior.

March

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They’ll be stressed as they take more midterms and have more papers or projects due.
  • Most will have their housing plans for the following year wrapped up by this point. This may be a relief for some.
  • Some students may demonstrate irresponsible behavior at parties over Spring Break, and suffer the consequences of that behavior.
  • They’ll register for courses for the following Fall Term.
  • Students feel pressure to declare a major.
  • Students begin to think about summer plans including jobs or internships. Students may also be concerned about how they will fit into the family and the family’s expectations if they return home to live with their parents for the entire summer.
  • Financial Aid documents for the following year are due.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Keep the lines of communication open. As your student begins to prepare summer plans and for the upcoming Fall Term, they may seek your guidance and advice or may want to make decisions without your help. Recognize that either way, these decisions are part of growing up, and trust that in the end they will make decisions that are best. Encourage your student to see their academic advisor before registering for courses.
  • Send care packages. Gift certificates for local restaurants, homemade goodies from home, a plant or flowers, and pictures of loved ones are welcome surprises.
  • Refer students to the Career Development Center for information about summer jobs and internships.

April

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students get ‘Spring Fever’ as weather warms up, and they’ll find concentrating on academics harder than ever. There are also more distractions on campus, as students go outside to play Frisbee, go biking, or enjoy a stroll around campus.
  • Stress levels are high as papers and projects are due and students take final exams.
  • They must plan for moving out of their current residence halls.
  • For some, leaving their college friends for the summer will be the biggest concern of all.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Be supportive through these stressful times, and send care packages to help her/him get through final exams.
  • Remind your student to take care with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and enough sleep.
  • Communicate about end-of-term plans for moving out of the residence hall.

May

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • They are experiencing stress and pressure about finishing up the semester, final exams and securing summer plans.
  • Many students will return home for the summer. Others will stay on campus and stay involved in employment, research or internships. Those staying on campus may have the opportunity to stay in a residence hall or choose to sublet an apartment or room near campus.
  • Students who lined up summer employment ahead of time will begin their summer jobs. Others will still need to find work.
  • Students who return home may have anxiety about losing their independence and will be concerned about adjusting to life under their parents’ roofs again.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Discuss with your student what your expectations are for her/his behavior, roles, and responsibilities during the summer months if moving home. Students may not be expecting to take on household-related tasks, especially if they have job and social commitments for the summer. This is a time to renegotiate the responsibilities as one adult to another. Will you expect your student to eat at family meals? Be home by a certain time? Call if coming home late? Or something else? These are all restrictions that they have not had for nine months. Be sure to talk about what you expect, and be willing to compromise, before problems occur.
  • Respect and appreciate the independent, self-reliant, mature person who has returned home, even if he seems nothing like the student you dropped off at Macalester last fall.
  • Use this summer to openly communicate with her/him as an adult, and to discover and appreciate the intellectual growth that (s)he has developed in the past few months.

June

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students who returned home may be experiencing conflict with their parents about independence, house rules, duties, expectations for work around the house, and respect for the needs of the family vs. the needs of the individual.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Discuss with your student what your expectations are for her behavior, roles, and responsibilities during the summer months if (s)he will be moving home. Keep the lines of communication open all summer.
  • If your student is taking spring/summer courses at an ACTC school, remind him/her of your expectations for academic performance, but be realistic about the challenges of the faster paced half-terms.
  • Encourage her/him to manage time appropriately. The summer will go by quicker than (s)he thinks!

July

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students who are now considered sophomores may feel nostalgic as they realize how quickly the year flew by and how much they have changed and grown as individuals.
  • Students who returned home for the summer may be anxious to return to campus in the fall and may miss their campus friends. Some may have anxiety that the relationships with their friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends may have changed over the summer.
  • Summer jobs reduce the amount of ‘spare time’ for students to relax and enjoy summer.
  • Students may be tired of living under ‘house rules’ and challenge parental rules.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Appreciate your student's growth and changes as they develop into an adult.
  • Keep communication open about plans for fall, finances, and relationships. Students at this age are far more willing to communicate with parents as fellow adults.
  • Help assess 1st year successes and failures, and discuss plans for making improvements in sophomore year.

August

What’s Happening with Your Student:

  • Students may have anxiety about their new fall living arrangements and new roommates.
  • They’ll be sad that the summer is ending, but also excited to return to campus and see all of their friends again.
  • They may want to spend all of their remaining free time with old friends, instead of with the family. This may differ from what the family wants.
  • They may have financial concerns that they didn’t make enough money over the summer to support their budget needs for the fall.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Support your student through another transition.
  • Help with moving and storage issues if possible. An extra pair of hands and a minivan on moving day are most appreciated.
  • Recognize that last days of summer will be busy and (s)he will not want to spend much time with the family if friends are in town.
  • Continue to communicate with him/her about your expectations for academics and behavior regarding drinking and relationships. Your role as a mentor continues throughout the college years, and these conversations become easier if you’ve established a respectful adult-to-adult relationship.