Student Transition to College

Most Common Concerns in the First Year of College

Parents can be more helpful to their students when they understand what most concerns them about the transition from high school to college. Some concerns are general, some more specific to “K.” The major concerns that we hear from the students who enter Kalamazoo College are summarized below. We encourage you to discuss them with your son or daughter. There may be some strategies that you can help them develop. Just talking about them may ease some of the fears of your new college student.

Increased academic pressure

Our entering students are used to getting good grades and being at the top of their class in high school. When they join our first-year class, they look around and see only students who excelled in high school. This is the most common source of academic pressure, but there are more. Students begin to worry that they won’t make the grades they need to enter graduate school or a career. They feel that you, their parents, are sacrificing so much, and thus they need to perform unusually well. They fear that they will not meet the expectations that parents have for their academic performance. Their own sense of self-esteem may be tied to their academic lives. Helping your son or daughter understand these fears and your expectations will help to relieve this particular stress.

Higher performance expectations by college faculty

Kalamazoo College faculty do have high expectations for our students. Your family would not have selected this college if they didn’t. However, students may not be prepared for some of the following:

  • the increased amount of work to be completed within an 11-week quarter
  • the need to study an average of 10 hours a week for each class
  • the expectation that papers go through several drafts before submission
  • the shift from memorization of facts to synthesizing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions, to using knowledge, not just giving it back
  • that faculty use of the grade of “C” as an acceptable passing grade

Lower grades than were common in high school

In college, students not only must be attentive to their academic work, they must manage their lives, organize their time, see to their health, meet new friends, and balance work and play. Adding these responsibilities to higher academic expectations may cause a student to drop about one letter grade in the first and sometimes in the second quarter. However, we find that after students learn to manage their activities, their time, and their health, they often move their grades back up to the level they once expected…if those expectations were realistic!

Time management

As you know, students must manage much more of their lives without your help. Although they receive support, there is no one here who directly helps them like parents do. We provide them with some planning structures to help address this problem, but students must work out their own time management strategies.

Dealing with alcohol

Nationally, alcohol is the reported drug of choice for college-age young people, who frequently think that drinking is a privilege that comes with going away to college. It is the time for experimentation, and, though there are rules, the monitoring of the use of alcohol depends on self-monitoring rather than policing. With the perception that “everyone drinks in college,” it is very hard for non-drinkers to feel comfortable about their abstinence. It is still an age where one does not like to be different from one’s peers. Thus those who arrive at the college with drinking patterns established and those who arrive without drinking patterns must confront the role of alcohol in their lives.

Confronting sex and sexuality

We could substitute the word “sex” in the previous paragraph because the same conditions apply. College life offers opportunities to engage in sexual activity, and students of this age do not believe that unwanted pregnancies, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted disease happen to them. If experimentation with alcohol is added to this mix, we find students doing things they really don’t want to do, not exercising control of their own feelings and behaviors. Students worry about whether someone will like them, whether they can say “no,” what others will think if they “do” or if they “don’t.” This may also be the first time students confront homosexuality and face conflicts within their own value systems.

Accepting responsibility for self

Many students are not used to communicating needs, setting boundaries, and resolving problems by themselves. Parents may have done some of this for them, and students have sometimes used “house rules” to avoid making tough choices. This is one of the critical developmental issues confronting 18-to 22-year-old people as they move through the process of separation from family toward independence. During this growth period, there are some rough times as students adjust to roommates, manage their housing selection, negotiate their own needs, encounter sexual experiences, manage their emotions, follow college policies, etc.

Our role is to help students confront these fears and concerns and to develop positive attitudes and behaviors in each area. We welcome your help on these important issues.