Labor Day has come and gone, and most college students have returned to campus. Quite a few of them are first-year students. Instead of focusing on teaching psychology in this piece, I want to focus on helping students adjust to academic life (which is teaching psychology in another form). Over a week ago my wife and I dropped our son off for his freshmen year at Wheaton College, a venerable liberal arts institution in Norton, MA. As we drove through Connecticut and then Rhode Island (he slept through New York and New Jersey), I fought the temptation to offer advice about how to study, keep up on class work, manage time, make good friends, and--wait for it--earn good grades. In other words, I did not want to be the sort of helicopter parent that I regularly complain about on my own campus. As you probably know, helicopter parents are those well-intentioned folks who hover incessantly around their children, bobbing, weaving, and endlessly intervening, offering everything from solace to money to fend off failure experiences, many of which would likely teach valuable life lessons.
So, as we raced past Providence (and I hoped for providence) and neared his new home, I kept quiet about how to adjust to the rigors of college classroom life. As we moved him into his "double," made his bed, and hung his shirts, I held back. As we prowled the aisles of a local Target for forgotten necessities of dorm life, I (mostly) held my tongue. When my wife and I left the next day after bidding the boy farewell (admittedly a bit teary), my parting comments did not include a guide for the collegiate perplexed. He has an academic advisor and he must learn things on his own.
But, had my son asked, here's the practical advice I'd have given him, what I tell students in my classes every fall. These are by no means blinding insights, but the members of the entering class on virtually any campus would do well to heed them (doing so won't hurt--and Mom and Dad, who have sacrificed so much, will feel better).
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