August is the month where most families are transitioning with their sons and daughters as new college freshmen. All members of the family are affected by this change. There's no perfect map for this journey, yet the following column offers some thoughts to consider.
To give a more collective perspective, today's column is written with the assistance of several Lycoming College students, credited in the authors' note at the end of the column.
Today we'll focus on the "traditional" student out of high school, with thoughts for parents-guardians, family members and the new freshmen.
I understand that some parents are footing the bill, while other students are responsible for 100 percent of their expenses - or a combination. Also understood, is that every institution is different, yet all have transition processes.
First, all parents and family members want to continually feel needed, just as freshmen need to find their way through this new experience. It's a balancing act, and a major transition with many unknowns.
Students want to make their families proud, while not feeling underestimated that they can't make wise decisions on their own. They will make mistakes, just as we do, and learn from them. Being supportive and nonjudgmental always keeps communication flowing.
Students do not necessarily recognize the tremendous changes that parents and siblings are going through at home. They may honestly believe that "home life" goes on naturally. Yet, just ask a parent about a child moving out, and their feelings about it.
As far as worrying, I don't see that ending on anyone's part. It's natural. Yet think about what you've taught your child over the years.
As a teacher, I often hear about the wisdom of a parent from my students. Almost every reflective essay I've had students write on communication, they focus on their families in a positive way.
Yet you may not feel that way when talking with them. I just wanted to remind you that they take you and their siblings with them. They often worry about family members, as they are connected and that's part of the "away" process.
Freshmen may want to make an initial "agreement of sorts" on how many times they will be in touch with home. Many of my students text or call their parents regularly, if not daily.
Other students become concerned about "helicopter parents"; meaning those who hover constantly, as it creates a sense of frustration and lack of trust.
My students and I can't highlight "communication" enough. Not only with parents and family members, but also roommates, teachers, coaches, advisers and other students - along with the numerous service providers at educational institutions.
Whether an only child, or from a large family, all students need to learn how to live together at school. They will all experience diversity of thought and background. Again, trust in what you've taught them to date. Their openness to the "possibles," versus their past life experiences, are an education in itself.
Know that some will meet best friends for life, while others will need a roommate change for a healthy experience. Both happen.
Little things can add up to big confrontations when living together. Whether it's sharing (or not) what's in the refrigerator, a difference in study and visitation hours, noise, the television remote, open windows, cleanliness - it's all relevant for conversations.
Many confrontations can be headed off if discussed when first living together. My students suggest learning flexibility in letting the little things go.
And should freshmen room with someone they already know? That is certainly up to them, however many students prefer to meet more people by rooming with someone previously unknown. It's not a negative statement about a relationship if the latter is chosen.
Commuter students make a special effort at new friendships, since they are not meeting people in the residence halls. They need to ask about what happens if a class is cancelled with a professor, or in the case of a school closing because of weather.
Car maintenance, travel time and off-campus jobs also need to be considered in scheduling. Residential students can reach out to them as well, and make a great friend.
Getting actively involved is a consistent suggestion from all of my students. Know that your teenager may not want to continue an activity they did all through elementary and high school.
While some are frustrated that they are not "known" as they were in high school, others are relieved to get a fresh start. Finding out their "true self" as an identity is important, and a work in progress. Conflicted feelings - versus a conflict - happen all the time.
Many students will not pick a major (study focus) until later in school. It is also not unusual they might change their major several times during their schooling.
The goal is for an education, while the pressure is already in the back of their minds of getting into the right job upon graduation; especially for this investment.
Some students are quite truthful about saying they don't know what they want to do until the later years. While others will have a track they stay on from day one while schooling.
Both scenarios end up working out. Learning about career opportunities with various majors is important to research.
One of the biggest challenges I see, and listen to from my students, is called "re-entry."
When students return home after beginning college, they are different people. They are reentering a place that is perceived to have remained somewhat the same, while they have changed. The independence they've worked so hard to create (maybe internally), can "feel" challenged when returning home.
My best suggestion comes from my students. Welcome them home and ask about their experiences. This does not mean foregoing home rules or responsibilities; yet you will probably see them transitioning and having some difficulty in the process. They may also be confused about their high school relationships as well.
Some will want to come home almost immediately, as they feel school "away" is not what they want. Encourage their independence, wherever they go to school.
Many of my students worry about their younger siblings, divorced parents, friendships from home or someone with a health problem.
Parents and freshmen should know the school's handbook. Most schools post it on their website. You also can access and share the academic calendar with important dates (i.e. class registration times, residence hall closings, holidays, final exams, etc.).
Textbook costs add up quickly. Many students find out what books they need for their courses, and then order them on half.com, amazon.com or book rental sites.
College bookstores have the information on these texts. Bookstores can sell these textbooks and many other amenities. Note: There is a difference between "required texts" and "recommended texts."
My students suggest you start with the required texts, and see if the recommended materials can be found in the library (or through inter-library loan).
Check if the school is MAC- or PC-based with wireless access, and what software packages they need.
If your teenager doesn't have a computer and-or printer, check to see where labs are located on campus - and what the maximum number of printing and copying may be. This is often a number that students exceed and ends up being a surprise on the bill. Also know that bills must be paid before students can register for any semester.
Students should carry their ID card everywhere, and many admissions departments have worked hard to get them discounts locally by simply showing their card.
Check ahead of time where commuters and other students park - and if students living on campus are allowed to have a car. Also check for transit opportunities near the school.
Many students-parents create a checking account at home where the student can use their debit cards for purchases or withdrawals. Knowing what banks offer fee-free MAC transactions (both on campus and in town) may make a difference in where you bank.
Checks from out-of-town are not always cashable, yet debit cards can do the trick. Adding to their account (when needed) also makes it easier for both of you. An additional local account allows them to deposit-cash their paychecks.
Health insurance cards are important to bring to school, along with a record of vaccinations and medications. Plan ahead for medication refills by considering the transfer of prescriptions to a local pharmacy near the school.
Consider when medical appointments are at home, and think about getting them a doctor in the college town. Emergency room costs can become a major unexpected expense.
Plan to not just "drop them off" and leave. Many students have stated they would have appreciated a little time together.
Lastly yet equally important for parents, are the people in your home. Everyone may be confused as they are transitioning too. Just a little reminder about remembering there are new needs in front of you; be it other children, your spouse - or taking care of yourself. For freshmen, the student authors and I wish you well with your new world of school. Always believe in yourself.
Langley is a communication instructor at Lycoming College. Student contributors include Myles Biggs, Justine Bush, Bethany Herring, Kaitlin Isennock, Allison Lubold and Kelly Prendergast.