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Students, parents need to prepare for college life
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As first-year college students move into dorms or off-campus housing campus advisors say that a little planning ahead can help ease the transition. - photo by Journal file photo

The last New Student Orientation wrapped up at California State University, Stanislaus on Friday. Local colleges and universities across the country are preparing to welcome a new freshman class.  The majority of these students will be teenagers fresh out of high school and ready to start their adult lives. The first year of college brings its own unique set of challenges for these freshmen, but campus advisors say that a little planning ahead can help ease the transition.

“One really big adjustment for students who move out of the family home is that their parents aren’t there every day when they get home,” said Daniel Berkow, director of psychological counseling services at CSU Stanislaus.

The big difference between living at home and living on campus or in an off-campus apartment, Berkow said, is that students no longer have their parents monitoring their behavior. Nobody is around to make sure they did homework, to see what they are doing or who they are doing it with or at what time they do it. They are free to spend their time however they want.

“There is a transition to more freedom and more responsibility. They have to set their own guidelines and motivate themselves,” Berkow said.

Berkow said that students who continue to live with their parents during college go through the same transition, but they do it more slowly. Students who move out of the family home find themselves suddenly and completely free to make their own decisions. Some students may respond well to their new lifestyle. They keep good connections with family and friends back home, they keep up with homework and other responsibilities and they handle their lives well.

“Some students could thrive in their newfound freedom,” Berkow said.

There is also a chance, however, that students will adjust negatively to their new independence. Berkow said that some students will have difficulty prioritizing, will spend too much partying or do the wrong hind of partying. They could develop problems with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. Or, they could just have a difficult time adjusting to a new town.

“The things that work for them in their hometown and high school may not work at college. They might just get homesick,” Berkow said.

Students who did well in high school and had good study and time management habits generally do better adjusting in college. But there are things that parents and students can do together to help insure the student’s first year of college is a positive experience.

“It’s definitely something that both parents and students have to work on together. For parents there is some letting go,” Berkow said.

Parents and students together should discuss what is going to happen before the student starts college. They should make a plan for how often they will talk, when they will talk and what topics are okay to talk about. Berkow said parents should allow their college aged children some space and allow them to make their own decisions. Children should work with their parents to stay in contact when they leave for school.


Safety should be on students’ radar

Another new aspect of living away from home is making safe and responsible choices. Sergeant Chou Her of the UC Merced Police Department said that students should be mindful of their safety before they step foot in their new college apartment or house.

“We ask that they see the apartment during the day and at night before they sign a lease. They should go at several different times on different days to know what they are really getting into,” Her said.

Students could notice that their future home is party central, or worse, if they visit at night. Her said that it is also important for students to program their university police dispatch number into their cell phone, and should never hesitate to call the number.

“It we can’t help we can direct them to someone who can. Even if they are just lost in their new city, we can arrange to get them home safely,” Her said.

UC Merced and other campus police departments serve their school property and the area around it. Officers’ main concern is the safety of students. Many campuses have safety escorts students can call after night classes or whenever they don’t feel safe. Schools also offer bus transportation to and from local hot-spots, so students always have a safe ride home.

The best advice Her could give to students is to use the buddy system and never be afraid to ask for help from an officer.  College campuses are generally safe places, but students can insure their safety with a little awareness and planning.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.