Redefining the Classroom

Swaying to the “Rhythm of the Freshman Year”

What your new student may be experiencing during this first part of the semester:

The rhythm of the freshman year. Your student will be acclimating to the ebb and flow of life on campus while your rhythm will change somewhat, too, Authors Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger highlight “the rhythm of the freshman year” in their book, Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years (2003). Here are some of the key points to be aware of during this first busy month:

  • The first few weeks involve a frenetic academic pace as classes start, syllabi are interpreted, professors are sized up and schedules are finalized. This may involve “trying on” certain classes, talking things through with upperclassmen and advisors, and finally having to commit to a slate of courses.
  • Extracurricular life also kicks in during those first few weeks as organizations try to recruit new students, events beckon their participation, and the social scene starts humming in the residence halls and beyond. This can be welcome overstimulation for some students while others get overwhelmed.
  • “Students’ reactions to school tend to be intense during these early weeks,” say Coburn and Treeger. “They either love it or hate it or alternate between the two extremes, sometimes in the same day, sometimes even during the same phone call home.”
  • After three or four weeks on campus, students start settling in, realizing that this is a new “home” and that they’ve made a long-term commitment.
  • Now that reality is settling in after those first exciting weeks, some students may become homesick. They’ll reach out to old friends, possibly visiting them, as they wonder if they’ll ever make such good friends on campus. This desire to connect is a grab at continuity during a time of big transitions.
  • Sometimes settling into a day-to-day rhythm on campus can be comforting to students who were initially overwhelmed and homesick. It’s the start of them finding a place to belong.
  • As classes cook along, some students may become bored by their classes. Others will have difficulty managing their time since they don’t have the same routine they did last year. And some will study inefficiently, overwhelmed by what seems an insurmountable amount of work, leaving no time for play.
  • Socially, the honeymoon will soon be over as roommates have their first squabbles and those “instant friends” from the beginning lose their novelty. First impressions pass and polite tolerance between strangers may give way to disagreements. Students will also start finding their place within the community by choosing groups to spend time with—while still trying to figure out where exactly they fit.
  • That’s the first half of the semester or so, in a nutshell, according to Coburn and Treeger. As you and your student adjust to the “rhythm of the freshman year,” recognize that not every student goes through every scenario listed above. Keep the lines of communication open and try to listen without being too much of a cheerleader. Students need encouragement, sure, yet they may also just need a listening ear as they learn to figure things out for themselves.


Going Home Too Soon

When your student is sounding homesick and lonely, a natural instinct is to invite them home. Yet, experts say that sticking it out for that first month on campus is key when it comes to students finding their place. It’s important for them to get involved with weekend activities throughout September, whether it’s a hayride program sponsored by their hall council or going to student activities’ outdoor movie on the lawn. Involvement and engagement lead to a sense of belonging.

Plus, sticking it out means they’ll eat in the dining hall, hang out with other students from class or the residence halls, and tune into the “rhythm” of their new campus life.