Assessing the Situation

It may be difficult to believe, but your student is now half-way through the first year at Princeton!

It is likely that your student is in the process of receiving and digesting the grade results of their first term. You may also be wrestling with the outcome—which may include some grades that look a little bit different than they did in high school. However, unless your student is actually earning D’s and F’s, there is likely nothing to worry about at this point. You might want to help students assess their time management, and perhaps recommend a visit to the McGraw Center for some help with study skills. It takes many students a semester or so to adjust to the demands and pace of Princeton work.

However, if the grades do indicate there is a serious academic difficulty, encourage them to make an appointment with their Assistant Deans as soon as possible. There are remarkable resources available to struggling students, and we will do everything we can to help out.

This is also the time of year when a few students who are having trouble with the transition may begin talking about taking some time off or transferring to another institution. While your immediate reaction to this proposal may be concern, know that a significant number of Princeton students do take a voluntary leave of absence at some point during their time here: to gain job experience, train for the Olympics, work in a laboratory, volunteer for a political campaign, hike the Appalachian Trail. Some do it simply because they need a rest from the hectic and often frustrating life of an Ivy League student. If your student is feeling burnt out and exhausted, and truly disinterested in their classes, encourage a conversation with the Director or Student Life and Assistant Dean to see if they can identify the problem and decide whether a leave really is the best approach.

What your student may experience:

  • Students return to campus after the Winter Break. Some of them will feel homesick as they return to campus; most will feel relieved to be back among friends.
  • They will receive their grades from Fall Term, which may upset or thrill them. Parental reactions to the grades may weigh heavily on their minds. 
  • There will be uncertainties in the new semester, as students begin new classes and meet new professors.
  • Although not directly engaged, first-year students will be witnessing their first eating club selections and “pick-ups,” the time of year when the selective eating clubs choose sophomores for their clubs. This can be a very awkward time of year for some students, so if your student has many sophomore friends, be prepared for some drama.
  • Students may feel down as the cold weather, short days, and lack of sunshine continue—they may also get sick again.
  • Students may evidence some signs of "cabin fever," due to being indoors more than usual. This may lead to increased roommate or other interpersonal conflicts.
  • Some students have a melancholy time around Valentine’s Day.
  • The deadline for applications for special needs housing is in mid-February. It is very important that your student have all of the necessary information in to the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students by the required date, otherwise there is no guarantee that their needs can be accommodated.

What you can do to help:

  • Be supportive of your student regardless of their Fall Term grades. If grades were poor, refer them to their Assistant Dean for help identifying academic support resources.
  • Encourage them to keep up with their coursework, and balance social, extracurricular and academic commitments.
  • If your student is truly struggling with motivation, encourage them to speak with someone in the college office about their thoughts who can help them decide whether this is the right path.
  • Ask how the social/roommate thing is going, and refer them to their Residential College Adviser if there are problems. If the situation seems more severe, send them to the Counseling and Psychological Services center.
  • Watch for signs of frustration or emotional distress as the excitement of college life wears off and academic responsibilities increase. Encourage your student to be proactive by reaching out for help, sharing concerns with friends or advisers, and accessing support resources on campus.
  • Send supportive messages or a care package on Valentines’ Day.