December and January
The End of Term
Your first-year student should now be talking with her advisor about second-semester classes, and planning her course selection. Many parents are understandably tempted to intervene in this process, hoping that their student will choose a “practical” course of study, which will allow for financial security in the future. Frankly, there are few things more painful than witnessing a student’s emotional and intellectual struggle to embrace classes and majors in which she has little interest, but which she feels she must pursue in order to please a parent. So try to avoid forcing your student to enroll in classes that you think are essential—and allow her to make those choices herself. She will learn invaluable skills no matter what her major, and Princeton graduates are always highly sought after.
One of the most 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 her time off: finals to prepare, papers to write, and anxiety to share. Unlike her friends from other colleges, she will not have endless hours to spend lounging about, shopping for gifts, or simply hanging out. She may express some bitterness about this. Moreover, it may interfere somewhat 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.
Once she does return to campus in January for Reading Period, she will be facing her first finals of her college career. (Reading period, the week and a half before final exams is when students are frantically finishing up papers, and beginning to prepare for exams. Some classes—especially language courses--continue to meet through this period.) During this time, she’ll be realizing how quickly “Dean’s Date” (the day upon which all written papers and projects are due) is approaching. She may suddenly recognize just how far behind she is in her reading. She may call home crying, because she has three exams scheduled in a row. (Students actually do not have to take more than one final exam per day, so if she has two scheduled for the same day, she can have one postponed for one day.) Stress and anxiety may lead to the sniffles, which in turn leads to more stress.
Keep a finger on your student’s pulse during this period, and remain calm yourself. If you sense overload is imminent, simply send her to the college office, where we will dry the tears, feed her chocolate, and answer any burning 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 her 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 her to relax a bit, after this taxing first semester at college. And again, expect a lot of sleeping.
What to Expect
What your student is experiencing:
- Choosing classes can be challenging for some students. Even first-year students fret about whether their course selection will permanently affect their academic progress or future options. They should absolutely seek out their faculty advisors; make an appointment with a departmental advisor; 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 his 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.
- Students may get very little sleep, and neglect proper nutrition or exercise.
- They’ll be very stressed about finals. For freshmen, this will be their first college finals: an adventure into the unknown.
- Some students will have financial concerns, as the money they budgeted for the semester runs out earlier than planned. They may turn to credit cards to help them in their budget crunch.
- The often alcohol-fueled 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 valid course selections upon your student. Suggest possibilities, encourage him to try something new, and challenge seemingly silly rationales, but allow him to make his own decisions in the end.
- If you didn’t do this at Thanksgiving, you might consider a discussion about house rules once your student arrives home for winter break. He’s used to much more independence than he likely enjoyed in high school, 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 him 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 him yet again about safety and social choices.