Assessing the Situation
You and your student have now survived the first semester at Princeton. Congratulations!
It is likely that your student is in the process of receiving and digesting the grade results of his first term. You may also be wrestling with the outcome—which may very well include some of the worst results he has ever had. Unless your student is actually earning D’s and F’s, there is likely nothing to worry about at this point. You should simply encourage him to re-think his 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 him to make an appointment with Dr. Caddeau 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 students who are not having such a marvelous time in general may begin talking about taking some time off. While your immediate reaction to this proposal may be horror, please take the possibility seriously. 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…and some do it simply because they need a rest from the hectic and often frustrating life of an Ivy league student. Frankly, it is something that we encourage. If your student is feeling burnt out and exhausted, and truly disinterested in his classes, it is likely a waste of his time (and often your money) for him to be here. If he leaves for a year, has some real-world experience, and returns refreshed and re-invigorated, it will be more than worth the extra time, in the end.
So if your student is perhaps indicating that a time-out would be helpful, please listen, take the suggestion seriously, and send him to the college office for more information.
What to Expect
What your student is experiencing:
- Students return to campus after the Winter Break. Many will feel homesick as they return to campus; others will feel relieved to be back to their independent lifestyle.
- 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.
- 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 painful time of year for some students (as well as another huge “party” time), so if your student has many sophomore friends, be prepared for some drama.
- Students may be depressed 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. This may lead to increased roommate or other interpersonal conflicts.
- Some students have a terrible 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 Dean Maria Flores-Mills by the required date, otherwise there is no guarantee that her needs—as determined by Dean Flores Mills—can be accommodated.
What you can do to help:
- Be supportive of your student regardless of her Fall Term grades. If grades were poor, refer her to Dr. Caddeau
- Encourage her to keep up with her coursework, and balance social, extracurricular and academic commitments.
- If your student is truly struggling with motivation, talk seriously about the possibility of some time off from school, keeping in mind that she can take a voluntary leave at any point in the term, up until the start of final exams.
- Ask how the social/roommate thing is going, and refer her to her RCA if there are problems. If the situation seems more severe, send her to the counseling and psychological services center.
- Watch for signs of depression and frustration.
- Send flowers or a care package on Valentines’ Day.