Tips to Support Your First-Year Student

We've compiled a list of the most-often discussed topics between parents and students. Take a glance for some helpful ideas and approaches to conversations. Remind your student that no matter what they need or have questions about, there is some place or someone on campus who can help. Encourage them to utilize our various campus resources.

Now, a few things to keep in mind, ask about or discuss....

  • Show interest in the new experiences of your student. Listen closely and be supportive.
  • Ask questions about their academic activities.
    • When is your first exam?
    • Where do you study best?
    • Have you tried using study groups for classes?
  • If your student is also working, ask them how they are handling work and school together.
  • Encourage communication between your student and their instructors and advisors. So much can be accomplished this way.
  • Be flexible. Your student's plans may change from one semester to the next. This is a normal part of most students' college experience. Your flexibility and support will help your student realize their goals without becoming overly frustrated.
  • Be patient. College is a challenging time for students so allow them time to grow and mature with all the new experiences of college life.

Things to Expect

More self-reliance

Yes, for the most part, students are on their own. They set their own schedules, make their own decisions and decide their own choices. College brings less structure and guidance than they are used to. But this is good, because it encourages students to gain independence and become more self-reliant adults.

Academic adjustment

College academics, for most students, prove to be very different than high school. College demands problem-solving and critical-thinking that may be more demanding. Encourage your student to stay on top of coursework so that it is not as overwhelming when deadlines or exam dates come around.


Yes, college can be stressful. That's why students should know the resources they have available to them. Remind them the faculty, their RA, roommates, fellow students and parents are all here to help them succeed.

Communicating between home and college

The first year of college is unlike any other year that follows. Usually it's the first time students are away from home, making their own decisions and handling their own schedules. It's also a time when parents usually see less communication between home and college . . . or at least in different ways. So there are adjustments on both sides to be made.

Here are a few tips that we've passed along over the years (or that have been passed on to us) that most parents find helpful.

  • Stay in touch with your students the way they stay in touch: texting, snapchat, Facebook and cell phones. If you're not familiar with your "social" options, ask your student for a quick 101.
  • Emailing, not so much. Students may go days (some, weeks) without checking their inbox.
  • Discuss calling expectations. You might decide to call once a week at a scheduled time, or maybe just try to catch each other whenever. Just agree to the best way to call and, remember, if your student doesn't return your call right away, give them some time—they're enjoying college life!
  • If you decide to visit the campus, don't make it a surprise. Let your student know you're coming and when. Keep the visit short (unless other plans are made). You might take a group of their friends to dinner, but then let them be part of whatever is happening that night.
  • When your child does come home, they will have a lot of laundry to do. And they will most likely be on a different sleep schedule than before. They might stay up until 2 a.m. and may sleep later in the morning.

Helping Your Student Adjust


Every first-year student, to some degree, will miss home. These students have a lot of adjustments to make and your support and encouragement is important. Make sure to:

  • Allow them time to explore not only the campus, but Wheaton, Chicago and surrounding areas. There are a lot of great things to do living here.
  • Remind your student that it's important to focus on their academics as well as the new experiences of college. But they are the ones that have to find the right balance. Don't worry, they will.
  • Encourage your student to maintain healthy habits like a healthy diet, exercise and sufficient sleep.

Get your student involved.

Whatever their interest, there is something to get involved in, join or volunteer for. These student activities are not just fun, they can lead to improved communication, leadership skills and even personal career networks that will serve them long after graduation.

Encouraging academic success

Like most parents you will worry about your student adapting to college-levels academics. Don't. Your student will adjust, and it is an adjustment they have to make. Here are a few tips to pass along to help them succeed:

  • Go to class. Don't sleep in (or sleep through).
  • Do homework and reading assignments. Don't get behind.
  • Get help when you first think you might need help. Don't wait until it's too late, like at exam time or the night before a paper is due.

If you see a dip in grades during this first semester, it's to be expected. Students have to adjust to a new learning environment, with new expectations. Most students will work this out for themselves and be back on track in a short time. Remember, your student has an advisor and a full faculty that wants to see them succeed. Encourage your student to get to know their professors and develop mentoring-type relationships as well as to utilize the academic resources available to enhance their learning.

Where to study?

The first place you might think of is their room (whether in a dorm on off-campus housing), and that is always a great place. But sometimes students have to find more secluded areas, or a place where other students gather to discuss courses. Here are the students' top five in no particular order:

  • Wheaton College Library (You can't beat a library, with traditional spaces and study rooms.)
  • Todd M. Beamer Student Center (There’s lots of open space, relaxed and comfortable.)
  • Starbucks (A little caffeine always helps.)
  • Conference rooms and classrooms in the Meyer Science Center
  • Outside! Nothing beats some study time under a tree or at an outside table. When the weather is nice, students head outside to find their favorite spots, you’ll even see some students studying in hammocks tied between trees on front campus.