Across the country, college students have just gone back to school after Thanksgiving break-the first lengthy break from campus most of them have had since starting classes at the end of summer.

Many just enjoyed seeing their family and high school friends, eating some home cooking, doing laundry without a roll of quarters and getting a break from the daily grind. They have returned refreshed, well-fed and ready for finals.

But almost every year, I hear of at least one student, usually a freshman, who’s struggling. Although almost every new student experiences a little shock upon arriving on campus, a few have longer-term issues figuring out how to handle harder classes, more personal freedom, more remote instructors and/or living with roommates.

After years in the college advising field, I’ve identified some traits that are often common to these struggling students. For parents preparing to send freshmen off to college next fall, it’s wise to be aware of these behaviors so they can see whether any apply to their student - and be ready to step in early with support if the freshman year gets off to a rough start.

Typically, struggling college freshman have displayed one or more of these behaviors while in high school: They had trouble seeing the bigger picture. They hadn’t developed strong critical thinking or problem-solving skills. They relied on their parents for too many decisions. They hadn’t developed strong time-management skills. They simply weren’t prepared for the rigor of college courses, perhaps because they didn’t push themselves in high school or didn’t take rigorous prerequisites.

And the big one: they may have chosen a school that’s a poor fit for them academically or personally. Perhaps they went to a huge state school when they needed the greater attention they’d get on a smaller campus, or they went to a school where they just barely met the academic standards.

Any of these factors should put families on alert that their student might have a rocky start to freshman year. And though most freshmen will sort through the adjustment period long before Thanksgiving, there are a few helpful things that students can do no matter where they are in the semester:

Make a connection on campus early on. Having someone who has your back - whether it’s a teaching assistant, dorm resident assistant, or a ministry leader - can help the transition.

Consider putting off joining activities or clubs that demand a lot of time or attention, at least till second semester. For instance, one of my daughters chose to delay sorority rush until second semester because she worried about juggling it all. By the time second semester arrived, she decided to join a service sorority instead, as that was a better fit for her goals and personality.

Work through roommate situations. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, but you do have to be able to treat each other with respect and consideration. If this is not the case for you after a few weeks, go to housing leaders to see what can be done. You need to have a safe, comfortable place to call home.

Don’t let things pile up. The greater demands of college are what sink some freshmen. Falling a week behind on reading may not seem like a big deal - until you realize you have that much reading every week. Don’t let your struggles snowball; plug away and stay on top of your studies. After all, that’s why you’re there.


Donna Spann is the CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 12 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career exploration and the college application process.

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