They're here...You're there.
By now you have returned home, after depositing your precious student here at Forbes. Or perhaps you’ve just dropped him off at the airport, with your fingers crossed, and heart in your throat. You might find yourself anxiously waiting by the phone, hoping she will call with news about an “awesome” class, a new friend on the hall, or a successful tryout. You’re likely trying to show some restraint by not first contacting him yourself. You may be adjusting to an empty space in your home, or the lack of a certain cheerful presence in your day-to-day life.
For many parents, it is often difficult to manage this change in the relationship with a child. Especially when the sporadic phone calls are not happy ones, and the inevitable instinct to want to protect your baby; solve the problem for him; or leap to his defense, kicks in. As hard as it may be, resist this urge.
This is the point in her life at which your student must learn how to navigate unfamiliar terrain on her own (with some helpful hints along the way). It is time for him to become an independent adult. So, rather than suggesting solutions, or personally intervening in challenging situations, talk your student through the issues, encourage her to seek out the appropriate resources, and feel free to send her to us for more information.
We hope that by providing some basic information about the cycle of the school year, and what you might expect your student to be fretting about, or challenged by, at certain times of the semester, you will be able to anticipate some of the more typical crises—and be better prepared yourselves to handle any situation that might arise. We’ll begin with September.
As always, if you do have concerns about your student’s immediate well-being or safety, please call Public Safety right away.
What to Expect
What your student is experiencing:
- The first 6 weeks in any new environment is a difficult adjustment. Your student is: navigating an unfamiliar campus and environment; surrounded by unknown peers; taking extremely challenging classes; and (likely) faced with new freedoms--and subsequent choices. Moreover, all of this is happening simultaneously.
- First-year students are usually homesick at some point, especially if they come from tight-knit communities and families.
- Entering students begin with a blank slate, even if they know other Princetonians. On the one hand, this is a marvelous opportunity to redefine one’s identity, but it can also be terrifying. No matter what their former accomplishments, very few people here know anything about their former status in high school. This may be a huge relief for some students, and a major concern for others.
- In constructing a new “Princeton” identity, students will push boundaries, and experiment with new things. This may include challenging personal or familial paradigms; sampling alcohol/drugs; engaging in sexual activity, and challenging various social norms.
- Many student groups hold tryouts, and for those unfortunates who do not make the cut, it can be absolutely devastating. Princeton students are extremely competitive, and most are used to a certain measure of success; for some, this will be their first taste of failure.
- The level of academic work at Princeton is much higher than at most high schools. It is also very difficult to earn straight A’s here. Students can quickly feel overwhelmed, and many will receive the first “low” grade of their young lives during their freshman year.
- Many students arrive convinced they are the “admissions mistake,” and are thus insecure, unsure of their ability to perform both academically and socially, and generally scared out of their minds.
- Living in a residential community—especially at the beginning--is hard, and many students are not accustomed to sharing space. Therefore, some students may be experiencing roommate conflicts, which can also be extremely disruptive. Most conflicts can be resolved through communication and compromise.
What you can do to help:
- Familiarize yourself with the University resources listed here, so that you can direct your student to the appropriate resource/s for assistance.
- Listen and provide reassurance when communicating with your student. Remind her that adjustment is often difficult, and feelings of inadequacy and/or homesickness are normal.
- Help to set realistic expectations for your student regarding academics, financial responsibility, social involvement, drinking, and drugs--keeping in mind that he should be enjoying a healthy balance of work and fun. Do this in a non-judgmental manner, and be open to listening to him as well.
- Encourage her to join student groups, and attend college or campus-wide events. Tell her to not be afraid to go to informational mass meetings alone—it’s the best way to get involved with the community and to make new friends. And suggest she sit down and talk to complete strangers at meals; it is considered perfectly normal freshman year.
- Help to keep any disappointments in perspective. There will inevitably be some.
- If at first she seems to be struggling academically—which is typical during the first year--direct her to Dr. Caddeau, to her faculty adviser or the relevant instructors, and/or to the McGraw Center.
- If there is a roommate conflict, tell your student to speak with his RCA—RCA’s are specifically trained to deal with these situations.
- Do NOT purchase airplane tickets for final exam week UNTIL your student knows his final exam schedule (it is published in October). Exams CANNOT be rescheduled for exam conflicts.
- Make sure you are taking care of yourself. While your student is certainly going through an enormous life change, you are too. Letting go is one of the hardest challenges of parenting.