Student Experience Timeline

Because each family is unique, each student and their family will have a different experience when their student leaves home for WSU. Factors such as family who have previously attended college, the student’s personal mindset and readiness, and family dynamics can make the transition to college easier or harder.

However, there are some common occurrences that most new students discover during the first semester of college. Not all students will experience each of these issues or experience them on this exact timeline. But for those that do, it can help to realize that many of their classmates are going through the same things.

Faculty, staff and fellow students will be supporting your student throughout the first 16 weeks, and you can too by pointing them in the right direction for help when they need it.

What Students are Experiencing

Your student will be welcomed to campus with lots of activities during Welcome Week. They will probably be enthusiastic about meeting new people, the freedom from curfews or family rules and finding a new identity at WSU. However, there may also be setbacks, like getting lost on the way to class.

Many students may have never shared a room (or even a bathroom) with a family member, much less possible stranger. Your student will have to learn to live with someone else’s habits (noise, cleanliness, sleep schedules, etc.), their friends and relationships and their tastes and preferences.

While the newness is exciting, students are also saying goodbye to parents, siblings, friends and pets. They may experience fear of the unknown-- “Can I be successful personally and academically?”-- homesickness and difficulty letting go. They might be grappling with the challenges of a long distance romantic relationship. Your student may even be wondering if you still love them when you aren’t taking care of them any more.



How Families Can Help

Saying goodbye to your student may be more difficult than you expected because the reality of your student leaving home really hits on Move In Day. It’s okay to feel sad about the separation. Remember that this is just one more milestone among many, not an end in itself.

At same time, you are probably also feeling excitement for your student! You hope that the college experience will be a good one.

  • Let your student know that you have confidence in their ability to handle this new adventure, and also that you are available for advice and venting, if they need it.
  • Make a plan for when your student will come home to visit (not the first weekend) or when you will come back to campus. This way you will each have something to look forward to.
  • If your student expresses frustration, disappointment or a roadblock, talk through their options with them. Resist the temptation to handle the challenge for them, however.  

What Students are Experiencing

With Welcome Week over, your student might be wondering what to do in their downtime. They may end up following the crowd for weekend activities, which may include experimenting with alcohol.

Students will be adjusting to lecture classes, labs and the college class schedule, as well as doing laundry, cooking and/or other “chores” they may not have been responsible for at home. College classes leave a lot of “free” time in between, which requires time management skills—study, work or have fun?

Homesickness may continue, and your student will be watching for mail for something other than coupons and fliers.


How Families Can Help

The reality of the student’s departure is confirmed by a new quietness in the house. Parents often struggle with when, how and how often to contact their student. You may find yourself starting to re-evaluate of parent/student relationship—how much do you expect your child to share with you about their day or week?

Parents are often surprised that there is no communication to or from faculty members regarding student performance, which is very unlike the K-12 experiences

  • Care packages from home can help connect to your student. Send goodies, healthful treats, gift cards and small supplies.
  • Show interest in what is going on at school, both inside and out of the classroom
  • Talk to your student about alcohol consumption, your family expectations and the University policies as well as local laws


What Students are Experiencing

It’s already time for exams, and students may be worried about test preparation and finding an effective, systematic way of studying. They may need reminders of the fact that they are in college primarily to get an education, not to revel in their social life.

Being sick on their own for the first time can be unsettling for many students. Your student should be figuring out how to access health services when they need to.

Your student might also be feeling homesick—it’s real and often unexpected. Not hearing from friends from home can trigger or increase this feeling, even in “well-adjusted” students. A visit to a mental health counselor at Counseling Services can be helpful to working through periods of homesickness.  


How Families Can Help

When you learn that your student is sick, it’s a normal impulse to want to take care of them. But you aren’t able to be there you might feel quite concerned because you aren’t there to take care of them.

  • Ask about their health habits—are they eating well? Getting some exercise? Did they get a flu shot yet?
  • Make sure your student has an insurance card or information and knows when to use it or any specific insurance such as prescription, vision or dental

What Students are Experiencing

First exams provide a reality check on what level of academic performance is required in college, and may leave students feeling overwhelmed.

New intimate relationships may be forming, and roommate problems often occur because the initial politeness wears off.

By now, first visit home has likely occurred and your student may be thinking “My parents treated me like a kid!”.


How Families Can Help

Parents are also analyzing first visit home and beginning to recognize, if not yet understand, the changes that are occurring in the relationship.

  • Mail your student some relevant clippings from local newspaper, such as high school football stories or photos of the fall play to provide a connection with familiar activities
  • Encourage students to make use of campus resources such as free tutoring services 
  • Keep the lines of communication open regarding roommates and other relationships. If your student seems interested, offer some of the issues—and solutions—you’ve experienced in the past when living with non-family members.

What Students are Experiencing

Now your student probably sees the need for time management when it comes to sleep, work, social activities and sports. Many students will struggle with expectations regarding academic performance-- “I don’t understand…I got As and Bs in high school!” --and seemingly unsympathetic professors.

Some may be experiencing feelings of discouragement or despair and need some counseling to work through those feelings.


How Families Can Help

Your student may request more money to meet needs beyond room and board, tuition, fees and books. They may wish to join in social activities or need additional furnishings for their room, and summer savings may be running low.

Siblings may want to visit campus to see how your student lives now. They are also adapting to student being gone.

You may be wondering if student is studying hard enough or doing well in their classes.

  • Set up a regular time for communication, for instance a weekly Skype session or texts twice a week
  • Resist the urge to contact faculty on behalf of your student if there is an issue with assignments or grades. You can role-play the conversation with your student to help them prepare to advocate on their own behalf. 

  • Refer your student to campus resources such as tutoring services, faculty office hours or the library reference staff

What Students are Experiencing

Papers are due, group projects are assigned and mid-term exams are taken around this time. The glow of newness and excitement has worn off and college is now a lot of work!

Friendships have been established and will continue to change. Students are learning the campus culture and figuring out their place in it. Many will deliberately experiment with their personal identity through clothing, church attendance, personality, activities, etc. and may seem very different than who they were in high school.


How Families Can Help

You may be comparing reports of progress with other parents of college freshmen. Keep in mind that no one wants to admit their student is having trouble adjusting, so you may be getting a very positive spin on their student’s progress.

  • Plan a weekend visit or holiday visit home for your student. Set expectations regarding time to be spent with the family, curfews etc.
  • Send another care package, and don’t forget the roommate(s)
  • Be open to changes in your student—ask questions respectfully and really listen to their response. Remember that this is a normal, healthy stage of development.

What Students are Experiencing

Mid-semester goals are set and based on the second reality check as more work is evaluated and returned. Some students may be feeling that they might need to rethink their major.

Planning will already begin for next semester’s course registration, and students should be meeting with their advisor.


How Families Can Help

You might learn of new romantic relationship and be very interested in what kind of relationship your student is involved in. You are probably wondering if they are making ethical and moral decisions.

  • Listen carefully for how your student is feeling about classes, friends and the campus environment

  • Ask questions about how they are spending their time, but refrain from offering judgment or criticism unless you sense they are endangering themselves or others

  • Keep various forms of communication open—phone calls, Skype, texts, Facebook, written letters etc. They are still listening to you!

What Students are Experiencing

Your student is probably feeling extremely busy with academics and activities, and may feel like they need to take some time for themselves.

During Thanksgiving break, they will want to use this time to touch base with high school friends and may not wish to spend as much time with family.

Many of your student’s new friends are already looking for off-campus housing, and they may be feeling pressured to choose roommates for next year already.

Your student may be spending too much money, and their summer savings is running out. They may need money for cultural and social events, car repair, travel home for break and more.


How Families Can Help

You may be feeling frustrated and disconnected: “I wonder if my child needs me for anything besides money. Other people have become so important in their lives.” Try to remember that they do still need your support in all areas of their lives, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.

  • Talk about budgets and how your student can prepare financially for the next semester and the next academic year
  • Make sure to talk about fun things and new experiences. Keep your student up to date on what’s going on at home with siblings, pets, extended family and friends.

What Students are Experiencing

Crunch time really begins and students may be feeling pressure from home-- and themselves-- regarding grades. They might be frustrated about class selection for second semester since new students register after upper-level students.

Students begin to realize they really have changed and high school now seems in the past. They might struggle to relate to old friends since the newer relationships seem more intense.


How Families Can Help

You may wonder if your student’s social life is out of control and worry whether they party too much. You’re probably also concerned how their first semester grades will turn out and if they will be successful.

You will need to determine what your family’s financial realities are and how they fit with your student’s expectations and wishes for living on campus or off campus, whether they need a car at college and other issues.

  • Help your student focus on what they can do now to end the semester well—study habits, test preparation, getting enough sleep etc
  • Try to avoid making threats or promises such as “I’ll pull you out of school if you fail that class” or “If you just pass, you can have a new car!”. Your student is responsible for their own grades and is likely putting plenty of pressure on themselves.
  • Discuss leases and legal obligations with your student. Tell them not to sign any lease or other document without reading it thoroughly and offer to read it over with them to ensure they fully understand all the obligations.


What Students are Experiencing

In this last week of classes, all the coursework is ultimately due and your student might be pulling all-nighters and struggling to find a quiet enough study space with all the other students doing the same. Stressed out students may call home to report that everything is horrible and they are going to fail—which is probably not true.

For many students, their first serious romantic relationship crashes by the end of the semester, whether it’s a long-distance relationship from home or a new one developed at school.


How Families Can Help

Parents wonder how to deal with their student’s stress level and react to a romantic relationship ending.

  • Express love and support. Let them know you still have confidence in them.
  • This is a great time for big care package. Caffeine, sugar, health food, and funny stress relievers are all great choices.
  • Listen to their laments about the relationship, even if you didn’t approve. Let them grieve and get over this loss with your support.

What Students are Experiencing

It's finals week. All the pressure of the semester has built to this point, and will be relieved as finals are over. They may want to stay and celebrate with friends once their tests are done.

Students are packing to go home and deciding what to take and what to leave behind over the break. Students may be feeling the usual holiday stress with the added stress of feeling they have no money for gifts.


How Families Can Help

You might be worried at the sudden lack of contact from your student, but understand that most students need that space to zero in their focus on finals.

It’s also exciting to anticipate having your student home again for break and you can look forward to spending time together over the holidays.

  • Focus on the effort they put into their classes over the semester, not just the final grade. Help your student to reflect on what went well and what they can do differently in future semesters.
  • Let them know that they can bring home laundry, but should make sure all food is disposed of before they leave for the break.
  • Talk about whether your student will be working while they are home and if they have made arrangements to return to work, if they are planning to do so.


What Students are Experiencing

Final semester grades are posted—this may be a joyous or distressing experience, or some of each. Your student may be looking to relax, and they will probably sleep more than you thought possible.

They are also adjusting to living at home and navigating the changing relationships with family members.  Old rules and expectations might feel confining or unfair. Seeing how friends from home have changed, too, can be unnerving.

They might now be in a long distance relationship, or be introducing a new significant other to family and friends.

Your student is likely missing their new school friends. Despite the fact these are new-ish relationships, they can feel very intense and vital. Your student may be eagerly anticipating going back to a place that now feels familiar.


How Families Can Help

Having your student back at home is not like it used to be. You have developed new routines, and you also recall how it felt when they were in high school.

  • Give your student some time to decompress (and sleep!)

  • Set ground rules for communication and behavior/curfews/etc.— but recognize that expectations have changed

  • Discuss with your student their feelings about the first semester and how their education or career goals have strengthened or changed

  • Look forward to a successful second semester

This content was adapted from Freshmen Timeline was compiled by Robert Shaw, Dean of Students Office University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, appearing in the Instructor’s Manual for Higher Learning: Reading and Writing About College Eds. Patti See and Bruce Taylor © Prentice Hall, 2001.