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Monthly Advice

The First Days…

This month marks the beginning of your student’s first year at UNA, which is sure to be filled with new experiences, opportunities, and challenges.

Faced with a new campus, unfamiliar services, and different policies and procedures, many students feel anxious and a bit overwhelmed. Even though friends from home may also attend UNA, most students are entering a whole new social world and experiencing adjustments that include managing new freedoms, choices, and decisions about social behavior.

In addition to a new social environment, students face an even bigger adjustment adapting to an academic arena that is significantly different than high school. Once classes begin, instructors will outline the requirements for each course, which will include specific information about grading, testing, assignments, attendance, and overall class structure. No two instructors will have the same requirements, and it is essential for students to keep up with this information in order to succeed academically.

Students will also have to assume responsibility for managing personal time, completing reading assignments, studying class notes, and preparing for tests and quizzes without being prompted. In these first days, the anonymity of attending some larger classes and the uncertainty of professors’ expectations may confuse some students.

Successful students are those who attend class regularly, talk with their instructors outside of class to clarify questions, and utilize suggested services.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Reassure your student that the adjustments he or she is experiencing are common and expected for first-year students.
  • Encourage your student to participate in campus activities like Welcome Week.
  • Suggest involvement in one of UNA’s many student organizations – Alternative Breaks, Freshman Forum, or Sorority/Fraternity Recruitment are great opportunities to meet people and get involved.
  • Encourage your student to arrive at least 30 minutes before classes if he or she lives off campus to become familiar with parking lots and shuttle bus services.
  • Remind your student to check his or her UNA Portal e-mail regularly. E-mail is considered the official form of university communication and may contain important information.
  • Send lots of mail, especially in the beginning of the year. It doesn’t matter how many times you call or e-mail; students truly want to receive tangible pieces of paper. Your student will be thrilled to receive a surprise package!
  • Encourage your student to take advantage of tutoring in math and other disciplines and writing support. Visit www.una.edu/successcenter for additional information.

Establishing a Routine…

After the first few weeks of the semester, many of the initial anxieties students might have experienced begin to subside. While some students become more comfortable being away from home, others begin to long for home and homesickness can set in. Your student may call you more frequently than expected or may want to come home every weekend. Support this transition by encouraging him or her to get involved on campus.

Learning to share a room is one of the first challenges many students face. Roommate conflicts have the potential of negatively affecting a student’s adjustment. Parents should play the role of listener and encourage communication regarding issues between roommates before tensions and anger build.

While college is a natural progression from high school, the classroom requirements are quite different. Parents should not expect new students to earn the same level of grades they earned in high school. Even good students have been known to earn low grades on their first tests, especially during the first semester; however, test grades usually improve as students become familiar with the subject matter and each professor’s testing techniques.

Encourage your student to meet and talk with an advisor or professor about any academic difficulties early in the semester. UNA offers several offices on campus with staff and faculty who are available to help. Students will also discover early on that they are responsible for keeping up with the demands of each course. For example, instructors will not necessarily remind students each time an assignment is due.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Reassure your student that feeling overwhelmed is normal for new students learning to manage academic demands and new personal responsibilities.
  • Remind your student that attending class regularly – whether required or not – and keeping up with assignments are essential to academic success!
  • Encourage your student to build and stick to a time management schedule. Planners are available at the UNA Bookstore.
  • If your student is experiencing homesickness, encourage involvement with a campus organization or a campus ministry. This is a crucial time for establishing connections to campus.
  • If your student is experiencing academic difficulties or trouble adjusting to a college course load, suggest that he or she contact the University Advising Services to discuss his or her concerns – earlier is better than later.
  • If other adjustment problems seem significant, encourage your student to talk with a counselor in Student Counseling Services. For more information, go to www.una.edu/counseling.
  • Encourage your student to develop habits that will promote a healthier living environment. Remind him or her to be respectful of others’ living areas and to communicate openly with roommates to avoid problems.
  • Remind your student of the value of exercise and a healthy diet – suggest visiting the Student Recreation Center or signing up for intramural sports. Remember flu season is just around the corner. Encourage your student to get a flu shot this month or make arrangements for him or her to visit a hometown doctor.

Getting Serious…

October is a significant month for students because of midterm exams and academic advising appointments. Students’ first college exams may cause apprehension and stress, compacted by feelings of insecurity or the need to prove academic competence. If students do not meet their personal expectations on mid-term exams, they may experience feelings of failure or loss of self-esteem.

It is important for students to remember that mid-term grades are not used to calculate GPA; they are intended to let the student know how he or she is doing in class. Receiving low mid-term grades should be taken as a warning for students to confer with course instructors and proactively review assignments and exams. Not all instructors issue mid-term grades, and students are responsible for knowing at all times their standing in class.

A great deal more self-discipline is expected of students than may have been expected in high school. Strong time management skills are crucial to ensure priorities are established early, and class attendance and study time must be high on that priority list. More often than not, a student’s poor performance in a course can be attributed to lack of attendance, missed assignments or tests, and general lack of preparation for the course. Most instructors will not call or seek out a student who has missed a class or test.

Advise your student to balance his or her activities. Your student should plan to spend time doing a variety of things, including attending class, eating, sleeping, recreation, and homework. Remind your student to do something fun every now and then to take a break from studying!

What Parents Can Do…

  • Be open to listening to the frustrations of trying to “find” one’s place at school. Remember, this is a normal part of acclimating to a new environment.
  • Have an open ear, but be careful not to provide too many suggestions on how to fix your student’s problems. Convey your confidence in his or her ability to find a solution. Do not overreact – by the time you have solved an issue, your student has moved on and you have lost sleep.
  • Encourage your student to join service organizations like Habitat for Humanity to meet fellow students while helping others. Service projects help keep students connected to their new community.
  • Encourage your student to read The Flor-Ala, the weekly student newspaper. Parents can also access The Flor-Ala online (www.florala.net), giving you both something to talk about.
  • Encourage your student to make a point of getting to know people who are different from him or her to broaden the college experience.

The Homestretch…

November brings increased academic pressure due to balancing final papers and projects. Students struggling in a course must establish consistent communication with the instructor. Oftentimes, new students feel apprehensive about approaching faculty members for help. Parents and families should encourage students to develop a rapport with instructors.

Occasionally, parents receive stressed, late-night phone calls at this point in the semester. Taking the time to listen gives students the support and encouragement to handle the situation. The pressures of academic life differ greatly from high school. Parents should not remind students of grades they made in high school, as this may only increase stress.

Thanksgiving break may bring new challenges for families and students. While parents have settled into a new routine, students have become used to their newfound freedom. Of the commonly faced issues, curfew is often the biggest point of conflict. Your student may be accustomed to staying up late at night without having to answer to anyone. When he or she comes home for a visit, treat him or her like an adult rather than the child who used to live in your home.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Give your student encouragement and support. He or she is probably getting anxious about upcoming exams and projects.
  • Encourage your student to begin studying for finals, especially comprehensive exams. They may take advantage of tutoring in math and other disciplines and writing support by contacting the University Success Center.
  • Encourage your student to visit professors during office hours to get help or discuss academic performance.
  • If your student seems depressed or anxious, encourage him or her to talk to a counselor in Student Counseling Services.
  • Remind your student to visit the University Health Center (Bennett Infirmary) to take care of any health-related issues. Again, while students are home for Thanksgiving, make arrangements for them to have flu vaccinations if they have not already done so.

First Finals…

Without question, December is a hectic month for students. With just a few days remaining before finals, tension grows as students work to complete final projects and prepare for final exams. During this time, students’ priorities generally become completely focused on academics, leaving little time for social activities.

The pressures of final exams generate stress in most students, and first-year students may experience high levels of anxiety. Changes in behavior such as neglecting sleep or food and consuming substances such as stimulants or other drugs can occur. If you suspect your student is experiencing any of the problems listed above, encourage them to visit Student Counseling Services. Continue to encourage your student so that he or she will arrive at final exams confident and ready to perform well.

First semester grades may not always be as high as expected. While parents’ initial responses may be negative, students will respond favorably to positive encouragement. If your student sees you as a supportive ally, he or she is more likely to confide in you and seek your advice.

Sit down with your student and have a frank discussion about improvements for the next semester: What was the biggest challenge? Was it time management? The difficulty of the courses? Feelings of not fitting in? An honest talk in which both you and your student set goals for the next semester can help everyone get started on a good note. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently in the future to help my student be more successful?”

What Parents Can Do…

  • Reassure your student that these next few weeks will be stressful and challenging, but you will be there to help if asked.
  • Remind your student about seeking academic or tutoring support services at the University Success Center if he or she expresses concerns about taking finals and reviewing course materials.
  • Encourage your student to eat a balanced diet, exercise, get a reasonable amount of sleep, and avoid too much caffeine. Even though the winter weather is not conducive to exercising, encourage your student to get plenty of physical activity, which will increase endorphins and keep your student energized.
  • If your student seems overly anxious, depressed, or expresses feelings of hopelessness, recommend that he or she talk with someone in Student Counseling Services.
  • Offer your support by calling, sending e-mails, or writing letters, but avoid putting more demands on your student’s time unless absolutely necessary. Consider sending a care package with your student’s favorite snacks or goodies.
  • Establish plans for your student’s trip home for the holidays and how he or she will travel. Remind your student to check his or her automobile’s oil and tire pressure before getting on the road.
  • Remind your student to check his or her grades before leaving campus for the holidays so that questions can be addressed with professors or an academic advisor before they leave.

Starting Off Strong…

As students prepare to return to school, they should be encouraged to do well academically. For many students, the first semester of college is a social and academic learning curve. Regardless of academic performance during the first semester, talk with your student about clear expectations for the next semester. Many times, students feel increased pressure to do well academically from family members, peers, and faculty. January is the time to focus again on meeting academic and personal goals.

With the first semester completed, students have a better idea of how much time to devote to studying or socializing. If your student did not have a daily planner for the fall semester to track assignments, due dates, and exams, encourage him or her to use one this semester. There are several paper versions available for purchase or several online calendars.

Most instructors provide students with a detailed syllabus, outlining exams and assignment due dates. Encourage your student to make note of assignment due dates and exams in their planners.

Again, suggest your student get off to a strong start by encouraging him or her to personally meet each instructor. Fall semester often teaches many students the importance of approaching instructors before the onset of problems in a course.

Your student is most likely taking freshman level-core courses. If your student has trouble obtaining a schedule, have the student talk to his or her academic advisor.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Encourage your student to set new academic and personal goals for the semester. What do you both agree are practical and obtainable goals for the end of the semester?
  • If your student is feeling apprehensive about his or her major or career path, have the student drop into the Career Planning and Development Office and meet with a counselor.
  • If your student’s grades were not as high as he or she had hoped, both of you should review the student catalog policies on academic warning and suspension. Also, encourage your student to visit with his or her academic advisor.
  • If students are still feeling as though they do not fit in, discuss how they can become involved in campus organizations. Campus organizations provide terrific opportunities for camaraderie and leadership.
  • The deadline for applying for an endowed scholarship is February 1 each year. Students need to start getting the appropriate material together for this deadline. For a list of endowed scholarships, please visit https://www.una.edu/financial-aid/scholarships-endowed-alpha.html.

Getting into a groove…

Early in the semester, some students may already begin to feel the pressures of keeping up with assignments and preparing for weekly exams or quizzes. Some students may feel they have time to complete semester assignments while others may already feel that procrastination is taking hold.

Time management is key to this month, especially if your student is struggling to balance studies and social life.

Although finals are far in the distance, it is important for students to hit the ground running in classes. Students who are members of student organizations may underestimate the amount of time they need to devote to academic goals and begin to over-commit to activities.

Anxiety over financial obligations may also be of concern for students who overspent in December. Some students may already begin to worry about finding a summer job; this may be especially true for students who were unable to find work during the holiday break.

If your student needs to find a job, encourage him or her to contact the Office of Career Planning and Development located in Room 202 in the Guillot University Center.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Talk with your student about the importance of work and social activities, and stress the importance of finding an appropriate balance between both.
  • Remind your student of the importance of visiting instructors, especially if he or she has concerns about schoolwork. Establishing a rapport with instructors is important early on, before problems arise.
  • Encourage your student to meet with an academic advisor prior to summer and fall registration.
  • Begin discussing summer plans with your student, including summer enrollment, Study Abroad possibilities, internships for credit, and summer employment. Encourage your student to discuss various opportunities with his or her academic advisor to explore options that will be helpful with upcoming major coursework.
  • If your student has not yet settled on a major, now is the time to start investigating options. The Career Planning and Development offers several interest inventory tests to help narrow down choices.
  • Relationships are a focus during this month and your student may need you to listen to his or her experiences with friends and significant others.
  • You may want to evaluate your student’s financial needs to see if he or she could use some extra spending money or assistance in revising his or her budget.

Time for a break…

This is a very hectic month as academic requirements and social activities can collide. Academic pressures increase as students face mid-term exams and begin to realize they will be ending their first year of college.

Many students find this to be an exciting time and thrive on the sense of pressure for motivation to achieve. For some students, however, the academic pressure, along with social expectations, can be overwhelming. If students feel unable to cope with this strain, they may become depressed, fatigued, and discouraged.

Spring Break is also in March, and students can become excited about the prospect of spending a week away from the pressures of school and taking a much-needed break. Many students make plans to go on trips with friends and sometimes end up focusing more time and energy on planning a vacation than on classwork.

Students might be a bit disappointed if peers are going on an actual vacation, and they are just going home. Students sometime work extra hours for trip money, or they may ask family members to help.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Take time to discuss options for living arrangements with your student for next year. Listen to your student’s ideas about what he or she would like to do and what he or she thinks is feasible.
  • Encourage students to speak to professors about difficult classes or exams on which they did not perform well. It is often more beneficial to have these discussions earlier in the semester as opposed to later in the semester.
  • Encourage your student to speak with an academic advisor in preparation for summer and fall registration.
  • Remind your student that while spring is a time of increased social activity, balance is important and academics should come first.
  • Encourage your student to think about choices regarding spring break activities, and remind him or her that using the buddy system is a good idea.
  • Caution your student to be mindful of travel scams when planning a spring break getaway. Sometimes, deals that seem too good to be true really are.
  • Encourage your student to sign up for new organizations for next year.

Deadlines Approaching…

The month of April is a time when the pace of the semester escalates and students find themselves busy on all levels: academically, socially, and personally. The end of the semester is only a few short weeks away, culminating with finals that begin in May. Students may be experiencing considerable stress and fatigue by this point in the semester.

Academic pressures are easy to predict. Final projects and papers are likely due during this month. Group assignments may demand coordinating schedules and academic work among three to five busy and stressed fellow students. Research on term papers requires that students test their competencies in using the library.

Due to stress and fatigue, some students may have missed classes and could be feeling anxious about their overall performance in certain courses. It is also not uncommon for many students to become sick as a result of staying up late, not eating properly, and feeling stressed.

Most students are not looking forward to one of the toughest and most intense times on a university campus – end-of-semester final exams, which commence at the beginning of next month.

Socially, many campus organizations schedule their year-end banquets, picnics, or formals in April. Seeking to fit in and belong, many freshmen will want to be involved in such events; however, some students are naïve about the costly strive to juggle everything coming their way. Even for students who have performed competently and responsibly in classes and who have kept a healthy personal balance, the multiple demands of April can take a toll.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Send care packages and messages complete with goodies, multi-vitamins, and encouraging notes.
  • Stress to your student that he or she should approach finals with an attitude of doing the very best he or she can and not worry about what has or has not happened so far this semester.
  • Encourage students to talk to their professors to assess their performance in courses as they enter exams.
  • Encourage your student to get plenty of exercise, healthy meals, and sleep as he or she prepares for finals.
  • Understand that your student’s passage into independent and successful adulthood will be gradual and will best be aided by your respectful challenges and support.
  • If your student plans to attend summer school at another institution, make sure he or she speaks to an advisor and completes a transient form.
  • Summer jobs and internships should be lined up and confirmed. Remind your student to finalize all plans.

Completing the Year…

May is an important and sometimes difficult transition month for first-year students. Those who return to spend the summer at home will have to adjust to living with their families again. Many will enroll in summer school either at UNA or at a community college/university in their hometown.

Students who return to their parents’ homes while they work and/or take classes at local colleges can easily find themselves in conflict with their parents over issues of independence and house rules. They may have a hard time understanding their parents’ need to comfort them or to exercise parental control over behaviors developed at school. Students often do not understand the necessity of home rules, particularly when there are younger siblings living at home. Parents’ expectations for their student regarding social behaviors, home rules, duties, and responsibilities should be established and clarified as soon as he or she returns home. Students who enroll in summer school will need to adjust to the rapid pace of their classes, with little turnaround time for assignments and exam preparations. The long daylight hours and frequent opportunities for social gatherings with friends can be inviting to students who have spent many long hours in the classroom. It is easy to get behind, and time management is essential.

Moreover, the informal atmosphere that characterizes the campus during the summer months can be very enjoyable, leading students to erroneously believe they do not have to study as hard in summer classes as they do during fall and spring semesters.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Talk with your returning student ahead of time about your expectations while he or she is living at home.
  • If your student is enrolled in summer school, talk about the importance of effective time management.
  • Make plans for how your student will move home or to a new location with all of his or her belongings at the end of the semester.
  • Discuss your student’s peer support group at home. In some cases, many childhood and high school friends will have moved away. Encourage your student to find ways to make new acquaintances for support during this break from school.
  • The start of summer may be the first time your student has time to reflect on the meaning of his or her academic experience.
  • Have your student check his or her grades before leaving campus for the break. If your student has questions, he or she should speak with the professor or an academic advisor.

Summertime at last…

The end of the academic year can be looked at from a different perspective once your student has returned home. While there may be excitement about finally finishing the year, there is also some time to acknowledge what has transpired during the past nine months. If students have not met their expectations for success in the previous year, they may begin to doubt their abilities and may lose confidence.

Students may also be concerned about their parents’ reactions if they failed to achieve academic goals. While they would like parental support, some may be afraid to call upon parents or families for help.

Students may experience anxiety about being home because they fear the loss of their newfound independence. Students may also have left some of their friends and significant others behind as they change residences or return home. Some students may worry that their college relationships may not survive the summer.

The summer can also present financial pressures as students consider whether to stay at school or return home. The decision to attend summer school is an individual one. Whether returning home for the summer or staying at school, students need time to assess the previous year and relax from the rigors of university life. For many, the summer serves as a well-needed break which will help them re-energize for the fall semester.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Remind your student that maintaining good health by diet, rest, and exercise is important.
  • If your student has returned home for the summer, take time to get reacquainted. Invite their new friends to visit.
  • Discuss your thoughts about summer employment while your student is home or attending summer school.
  • Establish clear expectations about house rules if your student returns home for the summer to live with you again. Acknowledge the possible differences in your lifestyles after living apart for the past year.
  • As the summer progresses, your student may express loneliness for friends made at college. Encourage him or her to stay in touch with these friends.
  • Discuss the value of your student having developed a positive sense of campus life and plans for involvement next year.
  • Encourage your student to visit family members that he or she may not have seen during the year to re-connect.
  • Suggest your student get involved in a community activity while at home.

Looking Ahead…

As students begin to prepare for a new year of Building the Pride, this is a good time to seriously reflect on the events of the past year. The first year probably went by much faster than expected; undoubtedly, it had its share of ups and downs. Students may find that they had some difficulties with time or money management.

Perhaps they learned that the study skills they developed in high school were insufficient during their first year in college. Maybe now they realize the importance of meeting with their academic advisor early in the semester to register for next semester classes instead of waiting until the last minute.

On the positive side, students may have learned that they could adjust to the academic demands of college life. Perhaps they learned there are many more choices in terms of activities, organizations, or classes at UNA than they ever imagined. Hopefully, they made some new friends. The positive and negative events of the past year can be used to plan and make midcourse corrections for the upcoming year.

What Parents Can Do…

  • Review with your student his or her financial needs for the coming academic year. Evaluate changes that may be needed for money management and work together to establish a tentative budget.
  • Take some time to discuss the needs and /or benefits of a part-time job.
  • Explore the need for career counseling to establish career or academic goals. Encourage your student to visit the Office of Career Planning and Development for guidance.
  • Encourage your student to establish a tentative academic plan for the full academic year. He or she should set realistic goals that include a well-thought-out plan for achieving them.
  • Encourage your student to volunteer his or her time with a local charity over the summer. Remind students that college is not all about them. Participating in community service activities and giving their time is a value that will last a lifetime.
  • Encourage your student to e-mail campus friends, and to check the UNA website to stay up-to-date on campus happenings.