The Scariest Month.
As the days become cooler, and the leaves begin to turn, the Princeton campus becomes an increasingly beautiful and yet somewhat terrifying place. October is the month of midterms. This means late nights, panic attacks, anxious calls home, and perhaps a poor grade or two—which leads to a renewed conviction of inferiority for some students. It is also an extremely social period, during which many students—especially first-years—are spending their first real weekends on the “Street,” and becoming familiar with the drinking scene. Halloween, with its orange and black theme colors, is inevitably a big party holiday, celebrated with great abandon and enthusiasm by Princeton undergraduates.
It is probably a good idea to check in with your student a few times this month, to make certain she is staying on top of her work, and is taking advantage of all of the available academic support services, if she is struggling at all. You might inquire whether she is balancing everything well: academics, extracurricular, and social activities. Is she spending too much time with the band? Not enough on her Chemistry? Or is she engaged in nothing but her studies? Neither of these indicates a healthy equilibrium.
You should also ask about her social experiences thus far, specifically about alcohol use. You might openly discuss the consequences of making poor choices when it comes to alcohol, and encourage her to become involved in the numerous alcohol-free social events on campus. It is best to avoid being judgmental during this conversation, and to encourage your student to be honest with you. Most importantly, we wish our students to avoid risky drinking behaviors. Both you and we want them to be safe.
If you sense that your student is still not feeling comfortable on campus, encourage her not to lose hope quite yet. If she is spending too much time on the phone with her high school girlfriend, and not enough energy meeting new friends on campus, gently suggest she get out a bit more. And if she is unbearably homesick, send her a care package of her favorite things from home.
Of course, it is also likely your student is having the time of her life.
What to Expect
What your student is experiencing:
- They’re stressed out about midterms.
- They may receive the first college grades on papers and projects. This helps students to understand what Princeton professors expect of them. However, students who once got all As may now get Bs and Cs. They will be devastated. Don’t make it worse.
- They’re facing competing social commitments. Students who get involved in too many campus groups at the beginning of the term may have trouble balancing the needs of those organizations with the demands of coursework.
- They’ll begin to work on papers, and must learn to navigate the Princeton library system. It may be intimidating.
- They are learning to manage their own money, and may have trouble sticking to a budget. There are many pressures on them to spend money—pizza, movies, clothes, etc.—and they may run out of it sooner than expected.
- They are figuring out the Princeton social scene. This almost inevitably includes either trying alcohol, or interacting with peers who are doing so.
- Students might have concerns about going home for Fall break, especially if the student has changed dramatically since the last time he saw his parents. If he is coming home, be prepared for a few alterations—and a whole lot of sleeping.
What you can do to help:
- Be sympathetic and loving, but try not to simply “fix” problems for your student. By letting him fix his own problems, you will demonstrate that you have confidence in him, which helps him to have confidence in herself. Remember that you are the coach, not the player.
- Help him to be realistic about academic achievement at Princeton. Everyone here was at the top of his class in high school. Not everyone can be so now. The point is to learn.
- Direct him to University resources for assistance with papers and assignments. If you sense panic, remind him that he can always approach a professor with a question or a concern.
- If you have not already, help your student to establish a budget and teach him how to stick to it. Most high school students have a limited understanding of money management, and this lack of knowledge and experience continues in college. Educate him on financial responsibility before the lack of responsibility becomes a problem.
- Discuss responsible partying with your student. Remind him always to travel in a pack, and never to leave the party alone, or with someone he does not know. Talk about “pre-gaming “ (drinking hard alcohol in the dorms before proceeding to the eating clubs, where underage drinkers are usually not served), with him, and how dangerous it can be to ingest multiple shots of hard alcohol—especially on an empty stomach; or when he is tired and dehydrated; or if he is on medication. And please tell your student to always, always call for help if he or anyone else seems to be in trouble.
- A significant number of college students struggle with depression at some point. If you believe that your student’s mood and behavior has been consistently and unusually “low” for a few weeks, you should refer him to the counseling and psychological center, or to the DSL, Mellisa Thompson in the college office.