December and January

The End of Term

Your first-year student should now be talking with their adviser about second-semester classes and planning their course selection. Many parents are understandably tempted to intervene in this process, hoping that their student will choose a particular course of study, which they hope will facilitate financial security in the future. Students may struggle both emotionally and intellectually struggle to embrace classes and majors in which they have little interest, but which they feel they must pursue in order to please a parent. Please allow them to make those choices about their curriculum in close consultation with their faculty advisers. They will learn invaluable skills, and, no matter what their major, Princeton graduates are always highly sought after in the job market.

One of the unique characteristics of Princeton is our academic calendar. Unlike most colleges and universities, which hold finals before the winter break, we have them afterward. This means that your student will have work to do during their time off: finals to study for, papers to write. Unlike their friends from other colleges, they will not have endless hours to spend relaxing, shopping for gifts, or simply hanging out. They may express some bitterness about this. Moreover, it may interfere in your traditional winter celebration schedule. Try to encourage your student to relax a bit, take some time off from studying, and enjoy being with family and friends. Again, balance is essential.

Once studnets return to campus in January for Reading Period, they will be facing the first finals of their college career. Reading Period, the week and a half before final exams, is when students are finishing papers and preparing for exams. Some classes—especially language courses—continue to meet through this period. During this time, students realize how quickly “Dean’s Date” (the day upon which all written papers and projects are due) is approaching. They may suddenly recognize just how far behind they are in their reading. They may call home in a panic because they have three exams scheduled in a row. (Students do not have to take more than one final exam per day. Students who have more than one final exam scheduled for the same day should follow instructions and observe deadlines posted by the Registrar for requesting that one of the exams be moved.) Stress and anxiety may lead to minor illness, which in turn leads to more stress. 

Keep a finger on your student’s emotional pulse during this period, and remain calm yourself. If you sense overload is imminent, simply send them to the college office, where we will dry tears, assuage their anxieties, and answer any questions. Please do also keep in mind that many students desperately want or need a “release” once this period of high stress is finally over. Ask your student what their celebration plans are, and encourage safe and thoughtful festivities. A number of students will return home for “intersession,” the week between semesters; others will take small trips out of town. Make sure your student will be doing something that will allow them to relax a bit, after this taxing first semester at college. And again, you may expect a lot of sleeping.

What your student may experience:

  • Choosing classes can be challenging for all students. First-year students fret about whether their course selection will permanently affect their academic progress or future options. They should seek out their faculty advisers, make an appointment with a departmental adviser, meet with a college staff member, and/or talk to upperclassmen about various options. However, they should avoid relying entirely upon friends’ or teammates’ advice about “the” classes to take; every student has their own strengths and interests, and what is “awesome” for one may spell disaster for another.
  • Many students may be concerned about the pressures of upcoming holidays, or returning home to live with the family after a semester of independence.
  • After winter break, there is very little time until finals. Dean’s Date approaches rapidly, and these papers and projects may be the longest papers or projects that students have ever done.
  • Some students may not get enough sleep, and neglect proper nutrition or exercise.
  • Students may be very stressed about finals. For first-year students, this will be their first college finals: an adventure into the unknown.
  • Some students will have financial concerns.
  • Alcohol at post-Dean’s Date and finals celebrations can be problematic, if students are not careful.

What you can do to help:

  • Try not to impose your own ideas about course selection upon your student. Suggest possibilities, encourage them to try something new, and challenge seemingly silly rationales, but allow them to make their own decisions in the end.
  • If you didn’t do this at Thanksgiving, you may consider a discussion about house rules once your student arrives home for winter break. They’re used to much more independence, so in order to avoid conflict, it is helpful to agree on some compromises up front.
  • If you gather there are problems (academic, social, emotional), refer them to the appropriate university resource, or if in doubt, to the college office. Keep encouraging a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, sleep, diet, and relaxation.
  • Ask about financial matters, and make sure your student is not going over budget—before it happens.
  • Remind them yet again about safety and social choices.