Supporting Your Upperclassman

The transition from high school to college is a difficult one that can cause a lot of stress on both students and parents alike. The classes are more complex, students are away from home for the first time, and finding their place on campus can be intimidating. However, in my experience, this transition is misrepresented as the most challenging one that you will have in undergrad. No one properly prepares you for the transition that I found to be the most complicated: switching from general prerequisites to upper division classes.

As a freshman, I couldn’t wait to get into the nitty gritty of my major and start taking classes that I knew I would actually enjoy. I was taking the basic prerequisites–biology, various math classes, that one English class that everyone is required to take–and I just longed for the day that my classes would finally stimulate my interests. When the time finally came for me to register for my upper division classes, I was intimidated but beyond excited. I had heard that upper division classes were different from those that you take in your first two years, but honestly, there isn’t really a way to prepare for this change. 

Your prerequisite courses are meant to give you a broad overview of essentially any field that you could go into, but in reality, they are just the basic premise of the subject. My major is English, and I assumed that I would be able to excel in my upper division classes because I’ve been taking English classes for most of my life. The harsh reality of college is that, sometimes, your prerequisite or freshmen classes do not accurately prepare you for the work that is expected of you in your major. I was blindsided when I took my first writing class. Despite how interesting the class was, the workload was at an intensity I wasn’t sure I could handle.

This change was a wake up call for me. Academics were starting to get serious, and the content of my classes quickly changed to information that I needed to know for my career. “Skating by” in class was not going to cut it anymore. My first semester in my upper division courses was the hardest semester I’ve had in college, academically and mentally, because it was so remarkably different from my previous semesters. I was so fortunate to have my family there to support me and cheer me on during this transition.

Nearly every day, I would call my parents and tell them how stressed out I was, but they never got annoyed with me or told me I was being dramatic. They were always supportive and willing to hear me out and help me rationalize my anxieties. They were always the first people to reassure me that I was smart and capable of doing well in my classes. On days when I was more relaxed, they would call me or send me a text to check in and see how school was going. They recognized that I was overwhelmed, and they did everything they could to make sure that I knew they supported me. Despite the trials from that semester, I ended up getting all A’s, and my parents let me know how proud they were.

I can’t imagine going through that semester and all the ones following it without the love and support from my parents. This is the easiest way that you can help your student going through the same transition. It can be a shocking experience that takes a lot of adjustments. Listen to them when they call, don’t make them feel ashamed for not doing as well as you or they want, check in on them, talk about things other than school to take their mind off the subject, just communicate with your student. Know their boundaries as well. If they need less communication, listen to them. Maybe only check in every so often. Do what you can to make sure that they’re okay because it could make a difference in how they deal with the stress. Even if I didn’t show it at the time, I was always grateful for the support my parents showed me in my academics, and your student will be grateful, too.

Written by Rylee Mehr

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