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First Year Experiences

The first year of college brings a lot of growth and change—and with that often comes growing pains. Knowing a bit about what many college students experience in their first year can help you support your student in this exciting (and scary!) time in their life.

  • August
    • Excitement and energy about the new environment and activities.
    • Feeling overwhelmed with change, responsibility, and social interactions.
    • Navigating new freedoms and balancing tasks.
    • Anxiety about roommates, professors, and classes.

    How can you help?  Listen, encourage, and validate your student's feelings. Refrain from rescuing them.  It is very tempting to "rescue" them or try to "fix" any situation that arises, but they are capable and you have raised them to be successful. Encourage your student to stay on campus. 

    Questions to ask your student: Which Bear Welcome activities will you check out?  What are the people in your classes like?  How are you enjoying your new college schedule?

  • September
    • Frequent calls and visits home.
    • Integrating into a new set of friends.
    • Homesickness and loneliness.
    • Challenges interacting with new and different people.
    • First exams, papers, and homework.

    How can you help?  Continue to listen to and encourage your student.  Write handwritten notes and/or send care packages. Remind your student about campus resources.  Support the learning and exploration process of the college experience.

    Questions to ask your student: Is college what you thought it would be?  Why/why not?  What's been your favorite/least favorite thing about college so far?  What are our plans for Family and Friends Weekend?

  • October
    • Roommate problems begin to arise as students get more comfortable.
    • Students begin to really question: “Do I fit in at UNC?”
    • First test grades returned and students prepare for major midterm exams.
    • Students maintain close connections to their friends and partners from home.
    • Consequences of behavior and decision making arise.

    How can you help?  Affirm and celebrate your student's successes, both now and in the past.  Try not to compare their high school and college grades, because they're very different!  Acknowledge and discuss the increased difficulty of college; brainstorm options that work for your student to perfect their study skills. Have a dialogue with your student about their actions and behaviors.  

    Questions to ask your student: Have you made an appointment with any of the tutors in the Division of Student Success?  What's been your favorite/least favorite thing about college so far?  What have you done well so far?  Is there anything you plan to do differently?

  • November
    • Midterm papers and exams are returned, giving students a good idea of their progress in some classes.
    • Roommate friendships could strengthen, or challenges could become clearer and intensify.
    • Many exams and papers are due before Thanksgiving break.
    • Excitement and/or anxiety regarding going home for Thanksgiving break.
    • First series of campus-wide illnesses (cold, flu, strep, etc.) hit; visits to the Health Center increase.

    How can you help?  Listen, be supportive, and encourage. Convey "it's okay to ask for help."  Assist your student in brainstorming possible solutions to their problems, but don't take over. Talk openly about the upcoming visit home.  Anticipate and express optimism about changes your student has experienced. 

    Questions to ask your student: Which of your midterms went well?  Which ones didn't go so well?  What classes did you talk to your advisor about taking this spring?  What are your plans for Thanksgiving break?

  • December
    • Anxiety increases over finals preparation.
    • Excitement and/or anxiety regarding going home for the holidays to see friends and family.
    • Challenges with balancing finals week programming and study time.
    • Sadness about leaving new friendships and/or romantic relationships

    How can you help?  Talk openly about the expectations you have for them over break.  Support open dialogue with their roommate to prepare for a new semester.  Praise connections made at college.  Treat them like the adult they're trying to become so they can do more for themselves in the future. 

    Questions to ask your student: How did your grades turn out?  Are you proud/disappointed?  Do you have ideas of what you might do differently in the spring?  Do you have plans to see friends over the break?

  • January
    • Satisfaction and/or disappointment with fall term grades.
    • Homesickness.
    • Loneliness for friendships and romantic relationships back home.
    • Relief being away from home and back at school.

    How can you help?  Verbalize your trust in them and their process.  Be patient and excited as your student explores their path through college.  Affirm that college is difficult and celebrate their achievements so far.  Encourage them to learn more about potential majors, jobs, and internship opportunities. 

    Questions to ask your student: How are you enjoying your new classes? How has your new schedule impacted your connections with the friends you made last semester?

  • February
    • Potential increase in alcohol and other substance abuse.
    • Exciting options for fall housing begin to surface.
    • Challenges upholding relationships from back home may arise.
    • Valentine’s Day may bring out loneliness and isolation.

    How can you help?  Encourage use of campus resources, especially if they're socializing more.  Don't panic — listen and assist in identifying support people. Refrain from rescuing.  Ask questions. Send a care package — especially around Valentine's Day.

    Questions to ask your student: Are you still balancing classes and socializing?  Where are you thinking about living next year?  Have you applied for on-campus housing yet?

  • March
    • Anxiety regarding finding roommate(s) for next year.
    • Excitement and/or disappointment regarding Spring Break plans.
    • Midterm exam stress.
    • Excitement about summer employment and leadership opportunities.

    How can you help?  Accept that there are highs and lows in a student's college experience.  Affirm the student's good decision-making skills and your faith in them.  Be clear about summer expectations.  

    Questions to ask your student: What are your plans for the summer?  Are you coming home?  How did your second round of midterms go?

  • April
    • Concern over declaring or changing their major.
    • End of semester pressure.
    • Excitement with the arrival of spring.
    • Registration for fall classes.

    How can you help?  Encourage the use of campus resources, specifically career services.  Send notes of encouragement and care packages. Refrain from constant calls of concern, advice, or rescuing.  

    Questions to ask your student: How did your academic advising meeting go?  What do you think of the classes you and your advisor discussed for next fall?  What are you doing to prepare to finish this semester strong?

  • May
    • Final exam anxiety.
    • Spring semester grades.
    • Apprehension and eagerness about returning home for summer.
    • Balancing the sadness over leaving new friendships and/or romantic relationships at school and the excitement of seeing old friends from home.
    • Realization of how college will influence life decisions.

    How can you help?  Dialogue openly about summer expectations. Support their feelings of sadness. Be aware of your own sense of loss while having the student gone and the transition of your student's return home for the summer.  Accept your student's changes; try not to second guess or challenge. Ask questions to genuinely learn about the changes/growth, not to correct. 

    Questions to ask your student: How was your finals week?  What was the same or different from finals week during fall semester?What are some of your expectations for summer?