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For Parents Newsletter|Division of Student Affairs

Advice to First Year Students

by April Heaney

As director of the Learning Resource Network, I have many opportunities to communicate with new students about the transition from high school to college. Through yearly interviews and surveys with hundreds of freshman and sophomore students, we gather a great deal of information about the joys and challenges of leaving home and starting a new life at UW. Based on these conversations and survey responses, I'd like to offer four suggestions for parents in helping students make a successful leap to university life and coursework. 

Encourage your student to develop meaningful goals for coming to college

In a recent study we conducted on struggling second-year students, we found that students who view college simply as "the next step," as opposed to having personal goals for their degree, tend to lose steam. Students who have the highest satisfaction and success often express a desire to "develop their mind," coupled with a willingness to build strong schoolwork habits. It's important to keep in mind, however, that some students need more time and experience to develop meaningful goals for college; a bumpy start can eventually lead to students discovering their own motivation and goals for college work.

Brainstorm with your student about the rewards of getting involved

The more students view college as an opportunity to broaden their scope and develop their interests, the more likely they are to succeed. With more than two hundred student organizations, chances are good that one will mesh with your students' interests and talents! The Outdoor Program, Campus Activities Center, and Service, Leadership, & Community Engagement offices sponsor programs throughout the year that build student's networks and help them unwind. To find out about student groups on campus visit; for details about campus activities, go to

Don't be fooled by the first four weeks!

It's an unfortunate truth that students set their academic habits for an entire semester in the first week or two. Instructors who teach freshman and sophomore level courses often ease slowly into the semester and then increase work steadily, spiking at midterm and final exam/project periods. Students are well-served if they plan for chunks of "schoolwork time" at the very start of the semester often between classes. In the first couple of weeks, students can use this time to find an ideal spot on campus for undisturbed schoolwork, get ahead on assignments and readings, set up a planner with due dates, and work on using to-do lists to manage tasks.

Help bring campus resources to your student's attention

The first year of college is overwhelming as students try to negotiate independence and the shift to college expectations. The last thing many new students have on their minds is seeking support for course based challenges (math, writing, test anxiety, etc.) First-year students are also less likely to take advantage of free counseling on campus for all transition or life issues. When first-year students do stumble onto these resources, the impact on their integration and improvement in courses can be profound! For a complete list of support opportunities, visit

Needless to say, entering students are both excited and somewhat frightened about fitting in and succeeding in college. The first year is a dizzying leap into new challenges, new expectations, mistakes, and achievements. Your support is critical during this transition, as is your ability to determine the key times to turn the helm over to your students and allow them to experience the learning curve that comes with having the sea to themselves.

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