Six Things Your College Freshman Doesn’t Want You to Know

Guest Blogger: Anna Ivey

The day your college freshman packs up his or her bedroom and heads off to adulthood is both proud and nerve-wracking. At this point, you’ve pretty much done all you can do to prepare your child for life in the dorms.

As you drive away from campus, you envision your child’s college days filled with classes, new friend-making, studying, and Sunday night calls home, right?

Well, believe it or not, there are a few things about your child’s first year away from home that they will not fill you in on:

1. “I’m drinking more now than I ever did before.” More drinking goes on at college campuses than you could possibly imagine, and that new-found freedom can escalate very quickly into serious substance abuse problems. Thursday afternoon through Monday afternoon is one non-stop alcohol binge on many campuses, and if your kid seems to fall off the radar for half of every week, take action before his transcripts and his health suffer serious damage. If you think colleges are acting “in loco parentis,” think again.

2. “I’m homesick.” That new-found freedom can quickly overwhelm freshmen in other ways too, as they discover that freedom isn’t all fun. When they are home on break, keep an eye out for signs of depression in particular (noticeably different appetite, sleeping patterns, etc.).

3. “I’m on Academic Probation.” Even if you don’t think of college freshmen as adults yet, under the law they now have the privacy rights of adults, and that means you no longer have the automatic access you once did to their grades and other school records.

Students often conceal academic difficulties from their parents in college, and freshman year is usually the bumpiest of all, even for students who were high achievers in high school. Especially if you’re footing all or part of the bill, make sure that openness about grades and academic standing is part of the deal, and make sure they stay on track to graduate in four years. Intervene before they jeopardize their financial aid, which is contingent on good academic standing.

4. “I’m not taking care of myself.” Think they’re taking care of themselves properly in college? Don’t count on it. When they’re home, round them up for teeth cleanings, eye exams, and physicals.

5. “I hooked up with so-and-so last night!” Their sex lives are going to be totally unlike anything your generation remembers from college. Today’s parents would find the casualness of sexual activity in college and the cynicism of “hook-ups” breathtaking. In particular, the phenomenon of longer-term “friends with privileges” can be far more confusing to young adults than the one-night-stand/walk-of-shame of a different era.

While it’s far from politically correct to say so, young women in particular can find this sexual and (non) romantic landscape disorienting and destructive, while at the same time the college culture (including the grown-ups at Health Services and Women’s Centers) exerts enormous pressure to treat these no-strings-attached relationships as normal, healthy, and empowering.

6. “I’m in serious credit card debt.” College campuses are teeming with slick sales pitches and enticements from credit card companies that prey on the financial inexperience of freshmen. It will be tempting for your young adult to apply for every card offered, but even a few missed payments can result in credit reports that will show the damage of financial missteps for years to come. If their consumer debt is snow-balling, don’t be the last to know.

Young adults do a tremendous amount of “growing up” their first year in college. Remember that though your freshman will not tell you everything, he or she still needs your watchful care.

Keep open the lines of communication, don’t overwhelm your adult child with phone calls and check-ins, and above all else, be your freshman’s biggest cheerleader.

Career Expert, Anna Ivey, is the Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. Currently, she advises young people as they navigate life after college, helping them make life path decisions – career, graduate school, etc.

Anna Ivey may be contacted at

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