As your student prepares to embark on their journey with Penn State Altoona, your continued support and understanding are critical in helping them make a successful transition to the University. Whether living at home with you, moving into an on-campus residence hall, or living in off-campus housing, rest assured that their first year will be filled with challenges in the new environment.
As high school seniors, your student likely knew everyone and everything connected to that environment. They knew who they could approach for help and guidance, and understood the system in which they went to class, participated in athletics or student organizations, and perhaps even worked part-time in their local community. Now they are faced with learning a new system, meeting new people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, establishing themselves academically and adjusting to the daily life of being a University student. As these changes take place, please remember that you are a key person in helping your student make a successful transition to Penn State Altoona.
What follows are some general tips that may be of help to you and your student as you begin the new experience with the University.
Before they arrive...
- Talk about money, and help them establish a budget:
Students need to understand the total cost associated with their enrollment at the University. Involve them in the financial aid process and help them understand that this is truly an investment in their future. Help them establish a monthly budget ... and consider such expenses as incidentals, social life, supplies, rent and utilities (if applicable), etc. It may take a few months to get it all down pat, but it will be worth it in the long run.
- Talk about alcohol and drugs:
Yes, both are here and believe it or not, most likely your student has been exposed to this world before coming to the University. It's important for you to discuss the issue prior to your student enrolling. Thinking through what decisions they will make regarding alcohol and drug use, along with understanding the options available to them will be of help as they begin their college career. Penn State Altoona takes the issue seriously, and we have strict policies that we enforce.
- Know and understand our policies and rules, and stay up on what's happening on campus:
We recommend reading all of the information provided by the University and staying up to date by regularly checking our campus website. Stay on top of due dates, deadlines, and requirements ... and set the expectation that your student does so as well. After all, it is their experience!
- Discuss involvement opportunities, and encourage your student to seek out ways to be involved in campus life:
Higher education research points out that active participation in co-curricular (out of class) activities such as student clubs and organizations, Fraternity and Sorority Life, athletics, intramural and recreational sports, student government, honor societies, research opportunities with faculty, etc. has many benefits, including a stronger feeling of connection to the campus community. We encourage all students, as possible, to become active in at least one out-of-class experience while at the University. There is something for everyone at Penn State Altoona.
As they transition and continue as a student...
- Listen ... and if asked, offer advice. Often students simply need to be able to talk something through (an issue, concern or problem) and you may be the sounding board in this case. Be supportive, and as necessary direct your student to contact the appropriate office and/or staff person on campus to seek information or help. Recognizing that a valuable tool in our student's overall development is helping them learn to help themselves, resist the urge (which we all have as parents) to solve the problem for them. Rather, attempt to help steer them in the appropriate direction and allow them to take ownership of the issue.
- Trust ... and remember, you've been helping them develop for 17+ years. Now it is time for them to show you what great teachers and role models you've been. Allow for them to have room to make decisions, and yes, possibly mistakes, on their own. As mentioned earlier, offer advice when asked, and support at all times!
- Write ... if applicable. News from home helps to keep the connection with the family and hometown. Send letters, cards, news clippings, emails, pictures, etc. Care packages are always a great idea as well.
- Expect bumps in the road ... or at least, the unexpected! And don't be shocked by it. Don't panic if your student's grades are not as high as you (or they) expected during the first semester or year. Students often have difficulty with the academic transition to college ... new classes, new faculty, more free time and less structured class time than high school may all be factors that contribute to academic transition issues. Encourage your student to seek help (the earlier the better). Most students show improvement over time as they fully adjust to college life.
- Visit ... but arrange it ahead of time with your student. Students enjoy having family visits, especially if they include dinner off-campus, shopping, time to relax and talk, and of course, the opportunity to show off "Their Penn State Altoona." Consider scheduling visits around special times such as Homecoming, Parents & Family Weekend, athletic events, theatrical performances, etc.
- Remember ... they are young adults, and college life has the potential to change them in many ways. Working together, we can provide the services, opportunities, support, and guidance to help them be successful not only at Penn State but in life in general. We look forward to a great year together!
The information shared above comes from the National Orientation Directors Association.