As the days become cooler and the leaves begin to turn, midterms arrive at Princeton, which might mean late nights, calls home, and perhaps a surprising grade or two—which leads to a renewed conviction of inferiority for some students. On the bright side, it is also an extremely social period, during which many students—especially first-years—are spending their first real weekends exploring eating clubs on the “Street.” Halloween, with its orange and black theme colors, is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Princeton undergraduates.
If you are able to attend First-Year Families Weekend, you will obtain first-hand feedback on your child's reaction to their Princeton experience thus far. You will have the opportunity to meet their friends and roommates, along with their families. October is a wonderful time to visit campus, and we hope you can join us.
If you are unable to visit in person, it is helpful to check in with your student a few times this month, to make certain they are staying on top of their work, and are taking advantage of all of the available academic support services, whether or not they are struggling. You might inquire how the balance of academics, extracurricular, and social activities is going, and encourage them to find a healthy equilibrium between work and play.
You should also ask about your child’s social experiences thus far. You might openly discuss the consequences of making poor choices, and encourage them to become involved in the numerous alcohol-free social events on campus. It is important to avoid being judgmental during this conversation, and to encourage your student to be honest with you. Most importantly, we wish our students to avoid risky drinking behaviors. Both you and we want them to be safe.
If you sense that your student is still not feeling comfortable on campus, gently suggest they try becoming involved in a student organization, or a faith community, or somewhere else they feel they can meet new people easily. And if they are very homesick, send them a care package of favorite things from home.
What your student may experience:
- Stress about midterms.
- They may receive the first grades on papers and projects. This helps students to assess their approach and understand professors' expectations. However, students who once got all A’s may now get B’s and C’s, before they begin to adapt their approaches to learning. On the other hand, they may be reveling in the accomplishment of their hard work.
- They may face competing social commitments. Students who get involved in too many campus groups at the beginning of the term may have trouble balancing the needs of those organizations with the demands of coursework.
- They’ll begin to work on papers, and must learn to navigate the extensive Princeton library system.
- They are learning to manage their own money, and may be concerned about how they stick to their budget.
- They are figuring out the Princeton social scene. This inevitably includes either trying alcohol, or interacting with peers who are doing so.
- Students might have concerns about going home for fall break, especially if the student's appearance has changed dramatically since the last time they saw their parents; a few extra pounds, a new hairstyle (or color), new clothes. Be prepared for a few changes—and their need to catch up on some sleep.
What you can do to help:
- Be sympathetic and loving, but help them to strategize ways to address their own problems. By doing so, you will demonstrate that you have confidence in them, which helps them to have confidence in themselves.
- Help them to be realistic about academic achievement at Princeton. Everyone here was at the top of their class in high school, but not everyone can be so now; half of the first-year students will finish the year in the bottom 50% of the class. That may feel uncomfortable, but it certainly does not imply failure!
- Direct them to University resources for assistance with papers and assignments. If you sense panic, remind them that they can always approach a professor with a question or a concern.
- If you have not done so already, help your student to establish a budget and teach them how to stick to it. Some high school students have a limited understanding of money management, and this lack of knowledge and experience continues in college. Educate them on financial responsibility.
- Discuss having fun responsibly with your student. Remind them to travel with friends, and never to leave the party alone, or with someone they do not know. Ask about whether they are drinking in the dorms before proceeding to the eating clubs, where underage drinkers are not served, and remind them how dangerous it can be to ingest multiple shots of hard alcohol—especially on an empty stomach; or when they are tired and dehydrated; or if they are on medication. And please tell your student to always, always call for help if they or anyone else seems to be in trouble.
- A significant number of college students struggle with depression at some point. If you believe that your student’s mood and behavior has been consistently and unusually “low” for a few weeks, you should refer them to the counseling and psychological services center, or to the Director of Student Life in their college office.