Guidance for the Freshman Year

Here are some observations and tips that might help as your student navigates his or her college experience. We’ve offered this guidance in a handy month-to-month format to help you understand some of the ups and downs that can occur especially during a student’s freshman year.

– AUGUST –

Beginning college is an exciting, confusing, and often overwhelming time for freshmen and families. Students are meeting new people from different backgrounds, confronting significant differences between high school and college, and dealing with more freedom. Resident students may be homesick. Commuter students may find it challenging to feel connected to campus.

Parents are redefining relationships with sons and daughters who are transitioning into adulthood. This process includes both resident and commuter students. Although there are individual differences among families, it is fairly certain that there will be “ups and downs” along the way. Mutual expectations, openness, listening, perspective, and humor can provide reassurance and stability.

– SEPTEMBER –

Students who are accepted into college have already demonstrated that they have the intellectual ability to do well in the classroom. However, they may underestimate the time and effort needed. Learning and doing well require initiative, discipline, organization and approximately 30–40 hours of study a week! Most college classes do not meet on a daily basis. Some are scheduled three times a week, others two. Some may be at night. Assignments may not be due for the first six weeks. Professors will not be checking to be sure students are keeping up with readings.

In addition, the American Council on Education states that full-time college students who work one to fourteen hours a week are more likely to stay in college than those who work more than fifteen hours a week or who don’t work at all.

– OCTOBER –

Freshmen may or may not know what they want to major in or what occupation they want to pursue. A number of students who think they are certain may have made academic and career decisions impulsively, emotionally, under pressure, or by default. Many students will change their minds more than once!

Fontbonne introduces first-year students to the process of informed career planning and decision-making through our Freshman Career Foundations Program. It increases the chances of making realistic and satisfying choices.

– NOVEMBER –

College offers more freedom and independence than most freshmen have had in the past. Some students may test it; some may not know how to handle it. Generally though, students make good choices and decisions. Those who make poor choices will be held accountable for their actions. Ideally, they will learn from their mistakes!

National statistics identify alcohol use among college students as the reason for 40% of academic problems and for 30% of students who drop out of school. In addition to academic failure, there may be impaired judgment, health and safety risks, physical and psychological dependency, disciplinary sanctions, and legal problems.

Students choose to drink for a number of reasons and peer pressure may be powerful. Many students believe that all students drink, but this is not the case! However, if students do violate university alcohol policies, Fontbonne reserves the right to notify parents of underage students, and in some circumstances, parents of students who are 21 and older.

– DECEMBER –

Final exams, projects, and approaching holidays may produce anxiety and stress for students and be accompanied by poor eating and sleeping habits, unwise coping mechanisms, and sometimes over-spending, especially on credit cards. Residents moving back home may face family adjustment issues and renegotiation of rules. Fontbonne’s on-campus Counseling Center offers free assistance in dealing with stress, depression, and a variety of personal concerns.

– JANUARY –

Research indicates that students who are involved in campus activities are more invested in their college experience, have higher grades, and are better prepared for life after college. The interpersonal, organization, communication, teamwork, and leadership skills they develop, as well as an appreciation for a diversity of backgrounds, philosophies, cultures and customs, are assets to their personal and professional lives. A tremendous amount of learning takes place outside the classroom!

Fontbonne has a number of student organizations which reflect a broad array of interests. Each organization has a faculty or staff advisor and many events and activities are planned throughout the year. There are many opportunities for leadership and service.

– FEBRUARY –

Students beginning their second semester after winter break may feel more familiar with their surroundings and experience a sense of mastery over college routines. Others might go through a readjustment period. Those who didn’t do as well in their classes as expected may either be more pressured and insecure or may be motivated to do better.

The “instant” friendships developed during the early weeks of the first semester, many times due to proximity in activities, classes, and residence halls, may not withstand the test of time. There also may have been a broken heart or two along the way. At this point in time, students may be trying to find more lasting friendships as they define their growing identities.

– MARCH –

Some students may be questioning, even agonizing, about earlier decisions about their academic major or career plans. They may not enjoy some classes or may not be doing well in them. Some may not have taken a class in their specific interest area yet, but are having doubts due to other factors. National studies estimate that many college students change their minds about their majors several times during their college years.

It is important to remember that students are more than their majors! Majors have several purposes: to provide depth in a specific academic discipline, to offer breadth in skills, and to gain access to a variety of career options. Some career fields require specific majors and some do not. A college major alone is usually not enough to get a job after graduation. The best way to prepare for a career is to get a sound education and gain career-related experience through internships, community service projects, part-time jobs, and extra-curricular activities.

– APRIL –

We live in a global society. Students who study abroad, explore other cultures, and meet new people describe it as a personal life-changing experience. Professionally, study abroad experience on a resume can offer a distinct advantage in the job market. It demonstrates motivation, self-confidence, and maturity. Fontbonne offers students the opportunity of spending a few weeks, a semester, or even a year studying abroad while earning credits toward their degrees. Federal financial aid money may make it quite affordable.

Students may also choose to broaden their educational experience by being an exchange student for a semester or a year at one of the eight schools which belong to the Association of Colleges/Universities of the Sisters of St. Joseph Exchange Program. There are opportunities in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri, and California.

– MAY –

End of the semester and end of the year issues may surface rapidly as students prepare for final exams, deal with leaving some of their college classmates for the summer, readjust to being more of a “full-time” family member, or perhaps venture out into sharing an apartment with friends. Amid the excitement and stress, there may also be a sense of loss and confusion as the first year of college with its “freshman identity” comes to an end.

– JUNE –

While some vacation time with few demands and stressors is important for everyone, most students have summer jobs, may be on a sports team, and/or may be involved in volunteer activities. Some may also take a class or two in summer school. While part-time employment and various service and recreational activities may meet immediate needs and interests, they are also significant building blocks to future professional employment. Employers are looking for evidence of a strong work ethic, transferable skills, and problem-solving abilities.

– JULY –

This month may not bring the visible anticipation and activity that the previous July did when students began the countdown for their first year of college. In fact, some students may feel disinterested, dissatisfied or disillusioned with the upcoming academic year. Researchers have identified “Sophomore Slump” as a phenomenon among second year college students in which a multitude of academic, developmental, and institutional factors challenge students as they strive to find meaning and purpose. Other students however, may be looking forward to returning to campus, confident and comfortable with their studies, friends, organizations and their direction in life.