What You Will Find Here
Before the First Year
Families can help their students practice important decision-making skills prior to leaving for their first year of college. By allowing their student to take responsibility for personal appointments and routine tasks, families are helping their student develop decision making skills that will prepare them for the daily and long-term obligations of college life. The more practice students have before coming to campus, the more proficient and confident they will become. Below are some activities families can encourage their student practice to develop decision making competency:
- Cleaning private living space and doing their own laundry
- Managing personal finances. This could include balancing a checkbook, planning an expense budget, tracking credit card spending and account withdrawals, and shopping for personal necessities
- Scheduling their own appointments, completing their own paperwork, and contacting offices for information
- Organizing personal affairs. This could include waking on their own in the morning, preparing meals, managing a medication regimen if relevant, and organizing time
- Making their own decisions and handling the consequences, even of small daily decisions, such as family obligations and following through on commitments to others
The information above was adapted from the Kalamazoo College webpage for parents. Additional information and resources can be found here.
Communicating With Your Student
Today’s families have well developed advocacy skills. They are good at accessing resources to help their students. But they face a new challenge of helping their college age students to start advocating for themselves. This may not be an easy task and there could be countless times when it will seem easier to pick up the phone or send a quick email on the student’s behalf. The problem is that by continuing to intercede, family members are inhibiting students from building their own advocacy and independence skills.
Instead families need to encourage students to establish a relationship with their professors and advisers. Student should be making regular contact through email and meeting faculty during their office hours. When appropriate, families can set up conference phone calls when contacting campus personnel that not only include the student but allow the student to start the conversation. Empower them to talk to campus resources and let them know that you are there to support them through this learning process.
Families should also discuss how best to communicate with their student while they are away at college. You are used to seeing them everyday and hearing about each day’s activities. Talk to them about how often they want to communicate and how. Before August orientation, talk about their preferred mode of communication: some students prefer to email their parents, others like a weekly phone call or Skype session. If you use social media, have a discussion about privacy concerns and how you will both keep in touch.
Ursinus College provides a stimulating academic environment. Our challenging and engaging academic environment provides students with opportunities to grow and to build vital skills. When students feel frustrated with a course, encourage them to speak to their professor. Let them know that you understand that it will not be easy at first. Remind them that Ursinus College professors truly want to help them. If they feel more comfortable with their academic adviser, suggest they talk to the adviser first. The majority of student’s academic challenges are worked through when students and professors talk about the course and the student’s academic work. Please remind your student to take relevant course materials to meetings with their professors.
In addition to professors and their academic adviser, students can also seek out tutoring in the Institute for Student Success (ISS). The ISS offers group and individual tutoring, depending upon the subject and tutor availability. Please encourage your son/daughter to visit the office to get more information about help that is available. The ISS is located in the lower level of Wismer.
A note about parents communicating directly with professors:
Family members may feel that emailing or calling a student’s professors would be the best way to help their student their grade or what is going on in a course. Please know that Ursinus College professors work hard to communicate with students and to provide them with a valuable educational experience. By encouraging your student to speak directly with their professor about their classroom concerns, you will provide them with the opportunity to work through questions and problems. You might try coaching them through a conversation with their professor by acting as the professor or suggest additional questions during the conversation. Giving your student this opportunity also helps them build skills they will need when they communicate with their future supervisors.
Students With Disabilities
Students with disabilities are strongly encouraged to contact Disability Services, about receiving services such as academic accommodations. Services for students with disabilities are different at the college level. The most important differences are that students need to self-identify and provide documentation which meets the college’s requirements. Students who are approved for services will receive an Academic Accommodation Letter (AAL). It is important to note that Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans do not transfer over to college and do not directly impact college academic policies. If your student is an individual with a disability, they can begin the process of requesting accommodations by completing an accommodation request form. They can also schedule an appointment with our Director of Disability Services by visiting the Institute for Student Success on the lower level of Wismer. Further information and the documentation guidelines can be viewed here.
New Identities and Perspectives
Ursinus will challenge your student’s current thinking and allow them an opportunity to take on new viewpoints and perspectives. You may find yourself talking to someone who has new values and a worldview vastly different from the individual that you dropped off during August orientation. Expanding viewpoints and seeing the world differently is part of the college experience. (The summer reading at Ursinus has been Plato’s Allegory of the Cave for several years and helps to exemplify emerging perspectives that your student might have.)
Consider that the change in your student’s views is evidence of their expanding critical thinking and intellectual abilities. You can foster these changes by engaging them in conversation about what they are learning and how they are forming these new values.
Many college students explore new identities during their college years. Your student may explore new political views, sexual orientations, religions, etc. It is important to remember that college is a time when individuals explore and create their own values. Conversations with your college adult can focus on the common ground between your values and theirs. While there may be major changes, emphasize your concern for their well-being, and your love and support. Often what we need most as individuals is to feel heard and supported even when our opinions differ from our loved ones.
Roommates Who Are Different From Your Student
What can families do to help prepare their college student to interact with people who are very different from them?
Learning to live with another person or other people is one of the most challenging aspects of college life. It may be the first experience your student has had with sharing a living space outside of the family.
This is a process that will most likely require some adjustment, sensitivity, and willingness to compromise. Even when roommates hit it off from the start, have similar habits, and share the same culture, there can still be issues that have to be worked through.
The situation can be exacerbated when roommates are very different from one another. Although today’s college students tend to be more accepting of different lifestyles and cultures, when it comes to sharing a room/living quarters, they may not feel at ease and have difficulty adjusting to other’s habits and routines.
In the first few weeks of their semester students are asked to complete a Roommate Agreement. This Agreement helps students establish agreed upon ground rules that apply to how they will live together including study and sleep schedules, cleaning chores, common spaces, and the best approaches for communication.
When preparing a student for campus life, families should stress the importance of mutual respect for people we share space with and that consideration of personal rights and property is critical. Encourage your student to try to work out problems with their roommates by honest and open discussion before a situation escalates. The Resident Advisers can also be a good resource and can act as a neutral mediator to help resolve any conflicts. If necessary, students may also talk with professional staff, the Resident Director assigned to the hall.
It is really important for family members to refrain from intervening in disagreements among roommates. Starting a college career is a time for students to begin to practice their new independence and really hone their interpersonal skills with negotiation and self-advocacy.
The professional and experienced staff members in Residence Life are always ready to lend support to students and help them find their way.
Talking About Alcohol
College is a time when both students and their families are excited about a future filled with new opportunities. New opportunities will present themselves as your student takes on the responsibilities of academic life, extra-curricular activities, personal growth, and decision making.
Families should recognize that college students, especially first-year students, are at a significantly higher risk for alcohol-related problems than almost any other population. The availability of alcohol, absence of family supervision, and a desire to fit in could lead to potentially risky drinking decisions. While students are informed of some of the physical risks associated with alcohol, many are not aware of the legal, academic, and social consequences of high risk drinking.
Some family members may feel reluctant or ill equipped to talk with their students about alcohol issues on college campuses. While we understand that every family has different philosophies about alcohol use, we would like to offer families some suggestions for beginning a discussion about alcohol with your college student:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how your student views alcohol use. Starting a conversation about alcohol can be difficult. Here are some questions you can use as a guide.
- How will you decide whether or not to drink at college?
- What will you do if you find yourself at a party and there is only alcohol to drink?
- What will you do if your roommate only wants to drink and party?
- How will you handle it if you are asked to baby-sit someone who is very drunk?
Every family has different philosophies and expectations regarding alcohol use and academic expectations. Set clear but realistic expectations regarding academic performance and the use of alcohol. Conversations about expectations tend to be more productive when an agreement about realistic expectations is met by both students and their family members. Have a conversation about what your student is hoping to gain from their collegiate experience, and set goals and expectations together.
Stay in close contact with your student during the first six weeks of classes when your student is most vulnerable to difficulties adjusting to campus life and social pressure. This is when first-year students are often introduced to the social scenes involving alcohol.
Talk to your student about the differences between low-risk and high risk drinking. Even if you don’t approve of your student using alcohol, this information could be valuable for your student in assisting friends. Here are some difference between low-risk and high-risk drinking and abstaining.
Low Risk Drinking is:
- Planning whether you will drink, what you will drink, and how much you will drink before you head out for the night, and sticking to that plan
- Eating a substantial meal before drinking
- Drinking no more than one drink per hour
- Always knowing what you are drinking
- Alternating alcohol-free drinks throughout the evening
- Knowing how you will get home safely before you go out
- Using the buddy system and designating a “sober buddy” for the night
High Risk Drinking is:
- Chugging, drinking games, shots, and drinking anything out a of punch bowl or trough a hose or funnel
- Drinking with the deliberate intention to get drunk
- Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence
- Drinking too much too fast
- Drinking on an empty stomach
- Mixing alcohol with caffeine or energy drinks
- Not knowing what is in your glass or leaving it unattended
- Mixing alcohol with medications or illegal drugs
Emphasize that high risk drinking is neither admirable nor funny, and that many students suffer unexpected and unwanted consequences. Discourage participation in drinking games. Help them understand that high risk college drinking can result in injury, vandalism, and high risk sexual behavior.
Encourage them to stand up for their right to a comfortable academic and residential environment. Students who don’t drink can still be affected by students that do. Encourage your student to deal with alcohol related problems like interrupted study time or inappropriate behavior by directly confronting the person or the problem. They can also enlist the help of their RA or the Residence Life Professional Staff.
Encourage them to intervene. If your student sees someone who seems to be making a questionable decision while they are intoxicated, encourage them to intervene. If they see someone who they think might need medical attention, encourage them to call Campus Safety at 610-409-3333. Many students fail to seek help due to lack of experience or lack of familiarity of available resources.
Get to know the social scene by talking to your student about it. Students tend to exaggerate the use of alcohol and other drugs by their peers. During orientation, students will get to know the myths and misconceptions about the use of alcohol or drugs at UC. Help them realize it is “OK” to resist the peer pressure to get involved with drugs or alcohol. Tune in to your student’s environment. Their favorite TV show, movies, and music will provide unlimited opportunities to discuss alcohol and substance abuse issues.
Know where to go for more resources. Let your student know that you may not have all the answers to their questions about alcohol and other drugs, but you will be willing to find out. The following list of resources should be a good start in gathering more information about alcohol use in college.
- The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery
- Tufts’ Talking with College Students About Alcohol.
- O’Connell, Kathy (2004). Talking to your student about alcohol. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems.
Grief From Afar
Students are strongly urged to access the Ursinus Counseling Services at the Wellness Center for mental and physical health issues. Go to the Wellness Center website for information on grief and bereavement and an extensive list of wellness resources.
The loss or terminal illness of a loved one is a difficult thing to deal with. Providing support to your college student has its own difficulty when there is a distance separating you. Parents often worry and want to be reassured that their sons and daughters are coping with their grief. There are sound reasons for parents to be concerned.
Grieving the loss of a loved one can negatively impact a college student’s academic performance and psychological well-being. Research shows that a student’s GPA significantly decreases during the semester of loss, providing empirical support for the assertion that bereaved students are at risk for declined academic performance (Servaty-Seib, 2006).
And for 10% to 15% of the bereaved, a debilitating and prolonged form of grief can pose severe long-term risks for psychological and physical health (Ott, 2003; Prigerson & Maciejewski, 2006).
While counseling has been shown to have a positive impact on the retention rates of all college students, only 10% of college students seek counseling services. (Bishop & Brenneman, 1986; Gallagher, 2004, 2010).
Tips for Talking To Your College Student About Loss
These tips are a collection of personal tips, as well as from books, web pages, and respected organizations:
- Remember that grief takes time (years) to learn to live with and never goes away, so be there for them in the days as well as weeks, months, and years following the death.
- The process of grief is complicated and involves many feelings: sadness, anger, anxiety, and guilt, just to name a few. So, while you may be experiencing sadness, someone else may be experiencing anger. Rather than trying to tell this your daughter or son not to be angry, simply encourage them to discuss their thoughts and feelings, while also expressing your thoughts and feelings to them.
- Encourage your student to open up about their grieving process with friends, other family members, and others who have grieved during college.
- Listen in a non-judgmental manner and let them tell their story as many times as they need/want to.
- Allow periods of silence – offer silent support – be a good listener.
- Don’t avoid the deceased person’s name, (if you knew the deceased) talk about what you loved and miss about the person.
Try to avoid:
- Do not placate (e.g., “He’s in a better place now,” or “Look at what you have to be thankful for”).
- Do not say that you understand exactly what your son or daughter is going through. Even if a significant loved one of yours has died, one’s reaction to death is very individualized.
- Do not give advice about what they should or shouldn’t be doing in their own grief process.
- Do not pass judgment on their timeline of grief: there is no set time and remember grief is not a linear process.
- Do not encourage them to make major changes in their life, let the grief process take it’s course.
- Do not try to ‘fix them’ or make it all better — grief is a natural process.
- Do not make statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.” These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might…”
- Do NOT make assumptions that someone is doing great and “all better” based on their outward appearances – grieving is an internal process (feelings, body sensations, and other individual differences that may never be seen)
The most important thing you can do is to give the bereaved a chance to talk or ask for help if they need to, be sure to take care of yourself too!
Information offered by:
- Michelle Hamilton, MHC, CT, a Bereavement Counselor, AMF Board of Alumni/Student Leaders, AMF Alumni member
- Kiri Thompson, MS, LPC, a Child and Family Counselor, AMF Alumni member, and AMF Chapter Development Director
- David Fajgenbaum, MSC
Here are some encouraging findings:
- Studies indicate that bereaved individuals who receive adequate support experience lower levels (both in intensity and incidence) of anxiety or depression, fewer psychosomatic and autonomic symptoms, and decreased use of alcohol, tobacco, and tranquilizers (Parkes, 1975, 1979, 1981).
- Research shows that group work is one of the most effective approaches to helping the bereaved (Harvey & Miller, 2000; Price, Dinas, Dunn & Winterowd, 1995; Shapiro, 1994; Worden, 1991; Zimpfer, 1991).
- Benefits from support group involvement have been found to include improved emotional, mental, and physical stability during and after participation (McCallum, Piper & Morin, 1993; Thuen, 1995; Zimpfer, 1991, Yalom & Vinogradov, 1988).
Whether your college student is a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, when the two worlds come together in a shared space such as a residence hall room, your student may need some additional resources. It is important to remember that sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression are just one aspect of a person. Students who discuss differences early are better able to establish mutual respect and a good roommate relationship. Encourage your UC student to talk to their roommate, Resident Adviser, or one of the Assistant Directors of Resident Life.
If your student is a member of the LGBTQ+ community or has a family member in the community, they will have access to many resources at Ursinus. We offer ALLY training for students, faculty, and staff to enhance an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.
The Rainbow Resource Center
“All students and community members should feel safe and welcome in their living, working and learning environments. The Connection coordinates campus community efforts to ensure the inclusion and integration of LGBTQ+ issues, fostering an inclusive and welcoming campus so that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, prospective students, faculty, staff, alumni, families and friends have equality.
The Rainbow Resource Center, a division of Student Affairs, is committed to diversity through education, support, advocacy and the fostering of equality for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”
For more information and additional resources, visit the center’s webpage or email them.
Career and Post-Graduate Development
CashCourse is the ultimate resource for relevant personal-finance information for young adults trying to manage finances for the first time. Financial information accessible through the CashCourse web site includes securing financial aid and student loans, how to save while still having fun, how to manage your credit card, buy or lease a car, rent an apartment, and more! CashCourse - designed for students, but families may read and share with their student.
The Wellness Center on campus provides free and confidential services for students seeking counseling. Services include individual and group therapy sessions along with psychoeducational events throughout the academic year.
Additional resources to help parents support their student’s mental health needs:
The Wellness Center on the Ursinus College campus provides an array of medical services to students. Additionally the Ursinus College Emergency Medical Services (UC EMS) is the college’s on-campus service focused on providing emergency medical care to all students, faculty, and staff.
Additional resources to help parents support their student’s physical health needs:
- Health and safety for College students from the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- Healthcare.gov Affordable Care Act, if your insurance plan covers children, you can now add or keep your children on your health insurance policy until they turn 26 years old
On the Ursinus College campus international students are supported by the International Student Advisor in the Center for International Programs. The International Student Advisor is dedicated to assisting international students in their adjustment to American culture and education, to being a resource on immigration matters, and to coordinating quality educational and social programming.
Additional resources to help parents support their international student’s needs:
Additional Reading For Parents
“Starting College: A Guide for Parents” by Marshall P. Duke
“Students are Different Now” by Linda Bips
Parenting College Freshmen: Consulting For Adulthood by Linda Bips
Don’t Tell Me What To Do Just Send Money by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller
You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me) by Marjorie Savage