Challenges for First-Year Students: Thoughts on Helping Them Succeed (For Parents)

July 10, 2014
Parents of the Class of 2018
Patricia M. Lampkin, Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer

Dear Parents of the Class of 2018:

In just a few weeks, your daughter or son will enter a new life chapter at the University of Virginia. Whether this is your first child heading off to college — or your fourth — the experience is uniquely personal for your student and your family. I am writing to discuss some of the changes that your student will experience upon entering the University environment. I hope some of what I say here will be helpful as you have conversations with your student over the course of the summer and as you both prepare for this time of transition.

The transition from home to college ushers in a period of exciting intellectual, social, and emotional growth. One of the biggest changes your student will encounter is an extraordinary amount of freedom. With this newly introduced freedom, however, come opportunities, risks, and challenges. For the majority of students, this will be the first time they are totally free to set their own schedules, explore new subjects and interests, learn to live with a roommate, manage their discretionary spending, and figure out what is most important.

Unlike high school, where students' daily lives were filled with classes and after-school activities, the balance shifts dramatically in college. Class time may total only 15 hours a week. That leaves what might seem to be an inordinate amount of free time, but it can quickly dissipate if not managed well. Time must be allocated for required reading, writing papers, studying, and meeting with professors; socializing and making new friends; eating, exercising, and sleeping; and participating in an array of activities — from student organizations and sports to community service and undergraduate research projects. Managing one's time and establishing priorities become critical elements in adjusting to college life and in developing long-range independence.

Your student, like my own daughter and son who are recent college graduates, has grown up in a period when highly structured days, usually managed by us well-intentioned parents, is the norm. Moving from such an environment to one where guidelines and deadlines may be less clear can be difficult. Most UVa students work through this change quite well; some may need additional support. While it would be impossible to advise you on the best approach with your own daughter or son, I can say generally that finding a balance between both space and communication will be central to your success. It is important to remain connected, whether through phone calls, emails, texts, care packages, or visits, but it is just as important to allow your student space to work through decisions and issues on her or his own.

Adapting to the freedom of college life also includes making choices about social activities and deciding what to do when encountering potentially harmful situations. We are especially concerned about those high-risk situations involving personal safety, alcohol and other drugs, and sexual activity. The University of Virginia has long taken a strong stance against hazing, bias, sexual misconduct and violence, and the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. As educators, we place a high premium on education and prevention. To that end, we conduct many student-centered programs that address these issues directly. We — and you as parents — can advise and educate students. Together, we can equip them with the knowledge of what builds a strong, ethical community, but we cannot be present for every situation she or he might encounter. Our hope is that our students will learn to make good decisions and protect not only themselves, but also their friends. In our community of trust, we teach responsibility for each other, and our actions demonstrate these values.

Beginning with Move-In Day, your student will receive information about health and safety, especially with regard to such critical topics as alcohol abuse and sexual violence. These are community-wide issues, common to nearly every college campus in our nation. If you have been following the news, you know that President Obama recently created a White House task force to look at the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses. This national task force is working to increase prevention measures to ensure two things — that one act of sexual violence becomes one too many and that victims receive prompt and caring support.

Please know that UVa has strong policies and procedures in this area, but we are always looking to improve and enhance what we do. Earlier this year, just prior to President Obama's announcement, President Sullivan convened a national conference here in Charlottesville on sexual misconduct among college students. Not only is the University committed to continual improvement in addressing sexual violence, but many of our students also are committed to bringing about positive change. Students are providing leadership through their own educational campaigns and through involvement in such programs as bystander training and in student-led organizations such as One in Four and One Less.

We will be discussing some of these issues in greater depth during Summer Orientation, and I encourage you to think about ways in which you can have an open dialogue with your daughter or son in the coming weeks. It may be a simple conversation as you are riding together in the car or taking a walk. Perhaps something you hear during Orientation or something you read about the national discussion taking place on college campuses will prompt ideas for open-ended questions. A lecture is certainly not what we have in mind. Instead, an adult conversation about your family values and expectations will open the door for positive dialogue. Research shows that such conversations taking place just prior to starting college have a tremendously beneficial impact on students' later success and on the decisions they make.

In closing, I want to emphasize how much we value our new students and look forward to supporting them. They are bright, fun, and impressive in so many ways. Our team is here to help them succeed in their UVa journey. From the Orientation Leaders they will meet in the next few weeks to the Resident Staff they will live beside in the coming year to all of us who work on behalf of students, we look forward to doing whatever we can to make the UVa experience a positive one for you and your student. I am sending a letter with similar messages to them.

Please call on us now and in the future if we can help.

Warm regards,

Patricia M. Lampkin
Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer