What Can You Do
Much like their sons and daughters, families of first-year college students often go through a wide range of changes and emotions. In addition to the joy and pride that accompany the realization that their child is taking important steps toward maturity and independence, families may experience, as well, a sense of loss and sadness attendant on their loved one’s leavetaking. Often mingled with this potent blend of feelings is a general concern, or even some anxiety, for the child’s wellbeing in a new and challenging place. Remember that Cornell and the College of Engineering provide a wide variety of support services to help new students and their families work through the transition (as noted in the next section).
The following suggestions combine ideas from Student Services staff members and engineering students.
- Write or email often and send care packages. Your student may not always write back, but he or she will certainly appreciate hearing from you and receiving reminders of your love and support. It will help your child feel more secure and better able to concentrate on their studies. But use caution! Write often enough to let them know you care but not so often to be perceived as intrusive or controlling. Do try to respond quickly when you receive a letter or email.
- Call. Show interest in your student’s studies and extracurricular activities, keeping in mind, however, the fine line between showing interest and asking too many questions. Understand that first-year college students feel newly independent and may not want to share everything. In addition, negotiating a designated time for you to call is a good idea. Early in the morning or late at night may not be optimal.
- Listen, be supportive and patient. Students often stumble or falter as they experiment to find out who they are and who they want to be. Listen to their goals, successes, and failures, being mindful that they hope for your approval and support as they test the waters of adulthood. Try to be as understanding as possible about grades. Likewise, don’t be overly concerned if your student calls home with a case of homesickness or the blues, unless you sense that something is seriously wrong. More often than not, he or she will come away from your conversation feeling better able to move on and cope with the problem. You can always call back the next day to follow up, and if you’re seriously concerned you can contact Engineering Advising or Counseling and Psychological Services (see page 15) if you feel the situation warrants immediate attention.
- Encourage maturity and responsibility. These traits are highly valued in college. We encourage students to talk directly with faculty, staff, and other students in order to solve problems and keep their goals in sight. Be supportive of their own investigation and analysis of problems and solutions, but try to refrain from making decisions for them.
- Don’t compare your college experience with your child’s! Resist the temptation to tell your son or daughter that they “will have the time of their lives.” Their own experience may feel quite different, at least from this early perspective. And times have changed, after all.