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By Laura Durham

Smooth transitions for students off to college

Heading off to college is an exciting time for a student, but the first semester of college also involves big adjustments. Getting used to living in a residence hall, adapting to the requirements of college-level courses and making new friends are just some of the changes college freshmen will tackle.

Most students will make these adjustments easily and thrive on their new campuses, but they still may experience a little homesickness from time to time. Luckily, there are plenty of steps family members and friends can take to help make this transition to college life as smooth as possible. If you know a college-bound student, consider some of the following tips for the coming semester.

Be accessible

Cell phones, email and social networking sites make it easier than ever to stay connected, no matter how far away your student's school is. Still, though, it is important to remember that college students may not want to openly discuss it if they are feeling homesick, or they may not even recognize feelings of sadness as homesickness. Often, a quick phone call home can help lift a student's spirits. Some key topics can help you get a feel for how well he or she is adapting. Consider asking:

  • How he or she is getting along with a new roommate. Living in close quarters with someone you have just met can be one of the biggest adjustments students face.
  • Whether any classes are proving difficult. If your student is struggling in a subject, getting help early in the semester can make a difference in his or her final grade. Many schools offer tutoring on campus if students seek it out.
  • Which classes he or she is enjoying the most. This can turn the conversation to a positive topic, and it can also provide useful information for later decisions about declaring a major and making career plans.

You may also want to visit your student in person during his or her first semester. Many schools host a family weekend during the fall, featuring events to help you get a sense of the campus experience. If you can, take advantage of this kind of occasion. You can check out your student's room, meet a few of his or her friends and connect with other parents.

Care packages

Remember how tough it is to treat yourself on a college student's limited budget? You can help your student indulge a little by sending some of his or her favorite treats. Some companies offer care packages especially designed for particular college events, like exam week or movie nights. In addition to reminding students that you are thinking of them, care packages can also deliver small items they might need. Consider adding a book of stamps or a gift card to a nearby grocery store.

Don't forget to include a letter in your package, and don't worry if you feel like you do not have much news to report. Small, conversational details about what is going on at home can help students feel more connected. Asking some key questions to invite a response is a good idea, too. When your student writes you back, he or she will get some low-pressure writing experience outside of the classroom.

Finally, remember that each student adapts in his or her own way. Some feelings of homesickness are likely, but, with a little effort and understanding, you can help your student have a successful and enjoyable first semester.

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