Parents & Families

Common First-Year Challenges

Our experience has shown that many first-year students experience similar challenges as they make the transition to their new lives on campus.

Homesickness
Homesickness is a common struggle for many students. It is important to remember that what often hurts about being homesick is not simply that your student is away from home, but rather that he or she hasn’t made Duke another place to call home. Returning home often (or focusing on wanting to be back home) can keep the homesick student from creating familiarity. Encourage your student to find places on campus to create routines, take study breaks, exercise, and enjoy a snack. Also, advocate that they take steps to make living spaces comfortable, with reminders of home and also pointers of the future. You can also suggest that your son or daughter join a new club or organization. Finally, ask about who your student has met and learn about his/her new relationships.

Returning Home
When your student returns home after having been at Duke, you may notice some changes. Most students experience a new level of independence while away at college. Structure and rules at home may seem foreign now. Be sure to have a conversation before the first visit, or shortly after the visit begins. Communication is essential so that your expectations are understood and any assumptions your student may have made (curfew, chores, coming and going and expenses) are clarified before conflict emerges. New habits may have developed that work when navigating campus, but which do not fit in at home. Often the shift from “son” or “daughter” to “visitor” can occur without anyone actually realizing it. This can affect siblings too, so strong communication throughout the family is key.

Facing Challenges
Your student is likely to experience the ups and downs of emotional and practical challenges associated with college life. Among the most common experiences are:

  • Feeling disconnected
  • Struggling to develop habits such as time management, prioritization and staying healthy
  • Acclimating to academic expectations that may be more challenging than anticipated
  • Managing a level of social and cultural diversity that may be different from the communities with which they are most familiar
  • Comparing oneself to others and becoming discouraged
  • Having difficulty managing relationships, both at home and at school

There are ways as a parent to support your student while still allowing them the opportunity to grow through their college experiences. Reminding them of their values, interests and goals, while providing family support, is important in helping them navigate their first year.