Taking Care of Freshmen

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By Erika Weisensee, Oregon Writer

Being a freshman is challenging. The university I teach at started school this week and I welcomed among my students several freshmen. Like many people, I was a freshman twice, in high school and college.  Both of those years were exciting and both were also more difficult than other years of my schooling, with the exception of junior high.

Because I interact with college freshmen, I try to be aware and sensitive to their challenges during what is a unique time of transition. If you know a college freshman, here are some things to be aware of, and ways to help them adjust:

The freshman year of college is a time of transition for young people because:

  • They are searching for independence but may still be emotionally and financially dependent on their families.
  • Moving away from family and friends and pets can be very difficult.
  • College freshmen report higher levels of depression than students in other years of school.
  • They are eating different, and perhaps less healthy food, and may gain some weight. This phenomenon is known as the “Freshman 15.”
  • There may be more pressure in their lives than ever before to consume alcohol.
  • They may be sleep deprived from late night study sessions and/or socializing.
  • They may be struggling to figure out their new role in the family.  No longer under the roof of parents, visits home can be awkward when young adults and their parents struggle over rules and responsibilities.
  • They may be stressed and overwhelmed by a new and challenging academic environment.
  • They may be assigned to a college roommate, whom they have never met before. It could be the first time they have ever had to share a room.

You can help your college freshman adjust to his or her new life by:

  • Checking in frequently with whatever method your “freshman” prefers—phone, texting, emailing, Facebook, etc.
  • Sending care packages. Especially when students are  a considerable distance from home, care packages will lift their spirits.
  • Encourage students to seek out and utilize campus resources, such as the counseling center, support groups, study groups and tutoring services, as well as campus clubs and activities that promote healthy social activities, like intramural sports.
  • Encourage students to make contact with their advisors and instructors. The vast majority of professors I know care personally about their students and appreciate when students ask questions and show that they care about doing assignments correctly. All students should make contact with their advisors and check in regularly.
  • Be supportive. Even if students seem to be enjoying their newfound independence, they will still need emotional support and encouragement from loved ones—we all do.
  • Make a visit.  If it’s a reasonable travel distance, make a visit to campus and take your student out to dinner. It will be a lovely break from dorm food.

Erika Weisensee lives in Milwaukie and teaches communication and journalism classes at the University of Portland.