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University of Connecticut Division of Student Affairs

Parent & Family Resources

Common Transition Issues - Students

Ashley Kotran '15 (CANR), foreground, eats with her sisters Lauren, wearing yellow, and Megan, and their parents at the Food Court in the Student Union during Family Late Night activities on Sept. 23, 2011.

Transitions in College: Do they ever end?

College, by nature, is a time filled with endless transitions such as leaving home, making new friends, choosing a career path, changing majors, adding minors, learning to live on your own, graduating, or engaging in romantic relationships. Students may face multiple transitions at once and struggle as they learn to manage them or have a clear understanding of their resources and support systems and seamlessly adjust to significant changes. Either way, it is important to encourage their independent decision-making processes through respectful discussions and meaningful conversations. As you continue to support your student’s autonomy, please keep these issues in mind as a framework for understanding what she or he may be experiencing.

Increased Freedom & Flexibility

There is no typical college daily schedule. Students may have classes that start as early as 8:00AM and/or ones that start as late at 8:00PM. They will also have the responsibility of managing study habits, attending extracurricular events, visiting professors during office hours, meetings for group projects, conducting research, and much more. Not to mention, they’ll need to find time to sleep, eat, and other daily tasks. Controlling and coping with the increased level of responsibility and freedom to organize a personal schedule can prove challenging for many students. It is vastly different from the structure and accountability of high school. However, a variety of resources are available to help students adapt to the new academic environment, such as academic advisors, resident assistants, and the Academic Achievement Center.

New Places & Spaces

The new living and learning environments will cause students to experience both excitement and apprehension. Being away from family, friends, and their hometowns can be very difficult for some students, as well as meeting new friends and fitting in. On the other hand, students may be enthusiastic about the opportunity to meet new people and try new things, such as joining clubs and attending events. It is also important to note that the time it takes to become comfortable with their new environments will vary from student to student and sometimes from semester to semester depending on living arrangements and academic demands.

Academic Expectations

Adjusting to academic life in college presents various challenges for students including a significant amount of independent studying and high levels of expected readings. In fact, the average student needs to study 2 to 3 hours outside of class for every hour that they are in class. As study habits and demands may vary from class to class, students must explore what practices work best for them. It will also be necessary for students to develop a great deal of initiative and self-discipline as work is no longer supervised on a regular basis. While professors are usually open and helpful, it is the responsibility of your student to approach them with any questions or concerns. Moreover, maintaining an open line of communication with an academic advisor is critical to selecting and scheduling classes each semester.

Self Exploration

Students will be exposed to a variety of different cultures, religions, theories, and ideas as they attend classes and get involved at UConn. Your student may question their own experiences, adopt new beliefs, or struggle with key values and identities. This self exploration is an important element of developing autonomy, and parents and families are encouraged to support their students throughout the process. While significant changes may occur, students are likely to maintain their core values.

Class Sizes

Class sizes at UConn can fluctuate from 20 students in a lab or discussion to 400 students in a lecture hall. During lectures students will need to adjust their listening techniques to accommodate large settings and learn to take notes in ways that best meet their individual learning styles. The level of expected engagement can also vary from class to class. While many professors may not do roll call, attendance in large lectures is still a critical component of academic success.

Getting Involved

UConn offers an incredible amount of co-curricular activities for students ranging from social organizations to special interest groups to athletic participation to community service projects. In fact, UConn has over 400 registered student clubs, and the opportunities to get involved can be overwhelming in addition to academic demands. It may take students time to discover what they are truly interested in pursuing outside of the classroom and how to balance their time. It is common for students to attend an assortment of events or meetings before determining what they want to get involved in.

Changes in Support Systems

Support networks will change for students as they adjust to their new academic lifestyles. Some students may remain close to family and friends, some will build new relationships and support networks, and some students will create new networks while maintaining old relationships. Students should be encouraged to develop connections with classmates and peers, get to know their professors and teaching assistants, or meet with academic advisors as these relationships will provide students with critical resources to success.

Maintaining Physical & Mental Health

Whether your student lives on campus or commutes, he or she is probably very busy. In addition to attending classes, participating in co-curriculars, and studying, some students may hold a job as well. With such diverse daily schedules, it can become challenging to eat healthy and find time to exercise. Students must learn how to adjust to their new lifestyles while balancing the academic responsibilities of the classroom. For some this may mean finding time to visit the gym, walking to class rather than taking the bus, learning about healthy eating habits on-the-go or in a dining hall, or discovering a way to unwind when the stress builds up.

Unfortunately, there is no exact outline for maintaining mental or physical health. It is different for everyone. As stress affects us all in individual ways, it is important for your student to explore the resources on campus and to be encouraged to seek help when needed. College can produce incredible amounts of stress and anxiety, but UConn is equipped with many resources to teach your student about self-management. Please visit Counseling & Mental Health Services to learn more about your student’s mental health.

Becoming a Self - Advocate

As you can see, students have a lot going on and will be faced with many transitions during their time as an undergraduate. But perhaps most important is the transition of personal growth and development that each individual student will experience. It may not be surprising to hear that UConn staff and faculty want many of the same things that you want for your student. We want them to develop the capacities necessary to make wise decisions on their own. We want them to take the lead when navigating through challenges. We want them to build meaningful, adult relationships and act upon their own beliefs and values.

Students will make mistakes. We all do. What is important is finding that balance of challenge and support that allows students to take the lead in their decision-making processes.

Information on this page was written by Cat Carter, a graduate student studying High Education and Student Affairs and working in the Dean of Students Office.
May 2012

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