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In a few days, many members of the class of 2012 will be headed home for fall break, and you can feel the energy in the air. For many this will be the first time they’ve been home since August, and the students are excited about seeing their family, their friends, their pets, their homes, about eating their favorite home-cooked meals, and everything else they miss. Of course, the students might also be a little sleep deprived after finishing up papers and studying for midterms, so they may spend the first few days catching up on sleep. And parents should remember that, as much as the students want to see their parents and families, sometimes the old high school friends can take up a lot of their time as well. After all the joy in seeing each other, however, a big question that many parents will have is: “How is my son or daughter doing at college?” In this posting we’ll give some general advice and then try to answer some specific questions. Fresh@News has asked Ms. Kathy Byrnes, Associate Vice President for Student Life, to provide some perspectives.
Fresh@News: So what should parents be looking for as they try to get a sense of how their son or daughter is doing as a freshman?
Kathy Byrnes: Generally speaking when we ask how a student is doing we look at a few different things: 1) Is the student adjusting well to the academic expectations of college work? By now the student should have gotten some grades back, and should either be doing work that is at least satisfactory or being proactive about seeking help. 2) Does the student seem to be making some social connections? Everyone expects the students to make a lot of new friends in college and it often happens that way, but for some students it takes a bit of time. It is a good thing if by fall break the student does seem to be talking about at least some new friends. 3) Is the student getting involved with some activities? Some students who have a really rigorous academic schedule hold off on getting involved with activities until they get their feet under them, and that is a good thing. Other students may get over-involved right away and can’t keep up with their work, so that isn’t such a good thing. For most students, however, it is a positive thing if they are involved in at least some structured co-curricular activity over and above their course work and spending time with their friends.
F@N: Any other general advice for parents?
KB: Sometimes there is a temptation for parents to want to interrogate their daughter or son, to make sure everything is going well. My suggestion is to be patient, at least at first, and let their son or daughter tell about their experiences in their own way. Of course a few well placed questions can always be helpful too.
Fresh@News: Good advice. Here at Fresh@News we often hear specific concerns from parents. We are going to ask you some of the questions that come up frequently. Here is one we hear a lot: “Will Villanova notify me if my son or daughter isn’t doing well?”
KB: For a number of reasons, we prefer to deal directly with our students, and we assume that the students themselves will communicate with the parents. For the most part, then, parents will not hear from us about the student’s progress. The Dean of Students Office does contact parents if students are put on probation (or receive a more serious sanction) for a drug or alcohol violation. If the student is in an emergency situation, we'll be sure that the student calls you or, of course, if the student can't call, you'll be contacted by us.
F@N: How about this one: “My son is really struggling with some of his classes. He was always a great student in high school but he is having a lot of difficulty in college. What can he do?”
KB: Generally, the first semester of college is a huge transition for students, so this is not a completely uncommon situation. The obvious suggestion is for the student to seek help, but some of our students do have some difficulty asking for help when they need it. The first resource is always the professor. All Villanova professors have posted office hours, and the student should either visit the professor at the office hours or make an appointment to see the professor at some other time. If a student is more comfortable with his or her academic adviser, the student should also see that person. For difficulties with writing or mathematics, the student can also go to the Writing Center or the Math Learning Resource Center. Many students have difficulty with knowing how to study and with managing time. These students can check in with the Study Skills Counselor:
http://www.villanova.edu/studentlife/counselingcenter/ This program offers individual help and also classes on topics such as test taking.
F@N: What if a parent hears that their son or daughter is doing OK in classes, but is not that happy with life on campus.
KB: Once again, it sometimes takes awhile for friendships to solidify. On question to ask is what is the student doing to try to make friends? Is the student reaching out to classmates? … hallmates? … students from the orientation group? If the student lives on campus, another step is to talk to the RA (Resident Assistant) in the residence hall. The RA is trained to be a resource for students, and can refer the student to a variety of services as needed. Some of these services are listed on this resource page for parents: http://www.villanova.edu/studentlife/specprograms/parents/ Students can also contact their Orientation Counselor (OC). The OC often has many connections throughout campus and can help students navigate some of the ins and outs of campus life. Another avenue is a visit to the Office of Student Development, home of many campus organizations and a great resource for getting involved. Through getting involved, students naturally meet people with similar interests and friendships form.
F@N: Suppose the student is feeling that he or she is not in the right academic program. What should the student do if this comes up?
KB: Often our freshman students are under tremendous pressure from the world around them to be able to explain their future career plans to anyone who asks. (Of course, we all know that many students have no idea what they want to do for a career, and even the ones who think they have an idea often change those ideas.) So there is an intense pressure on students to pick a major that seems focused on a specific career. As a result, some of our students start to talk about transferring from Arts and Sciences to one of the pre-professional schools (especially business) because they think that it will help them find employment when they graduate. At the same time we see other students who are thinking about leaving programs such as pre-med, nursing, engineering, or business because they were attracted to these programs not so much because they were interested in these fields but because they thought the fields would lead them to employment. As a result, some students are always interested in transferring from one college to another. It is possible to transfer from one college to another, of course, but students have to go through an application process and they are not guaranteed admission to the new college. If they do transfer, they may have to make up course work that they missed. So I can give two pieces of advice. First, the students should get some advice about whether the academic program is the right one, and here the academic adviser can be very helpful in discussing these questions. Each college has an advising center, and students can go there for additional guidance. Second, if the question is really about employment and jobs, the student should check in with Career Services in Corr Hall, and the counselors there can help students think more realistically about careers. Of course the first thing they will tell the student is that, "Your major is not necessarily your career." Their website is: http://www.villanova.edu/studentlife/careers/
F@N: Here is a question that we hear sometimes: “My son says he LOVES Villanova and that he is having a great time. I'm worried, however, that he is having a terrific time socially but that his grades may be suffering. It isn't that I don't trust him, but I'd like some independent indication of how he is doing academically. How would I get that?”
KB: This question is not untypical, and it isn’t only the young men who may be distracted by the social aspect of college. Given the greater freedom of college life, some of our students can be a bit unrealistic about how things are going. The fact that they have fewer tests and fewer graded homework assignments can also mean that they don't get as much feedback on their progress as they got in high school. Occasionally a student also may not be completely up front with their parents about their academic work.
There are several things to watch. The first indication is mid-term grades. Many faculty members post a mid-term grade. These grades are posted on Novasis, which is our student record system, and they are usually available about a week or two after fall break. So if you haven’t heard anything by the middle of fall break, it is a good time to ask your son or daughter since it is more than likely they received most of their mid term grades by then. You might ask your son to show you his mid-term grades on Novasis. Three of the colleges - Arts and Sciences, Business, and Nursing - also send a mid-term warning letter to first year students who are doing poorly in their academic work. These letters are typically sent to the student both at the home address and at Villanova. So, if a letter arrives in October from the Academic Dean, you might ask your child what is in the letter.
Final grades - which come out just around Christmas -- are a definite moment of truth for first year students. Again, they will be posted on Novasis, and so you should check in with your son or daughter about how grades were. A student who does poorly (generally less than a 2.0) during the first semester is put on academic probation. Most of them straighten out in their second semester. A few who really aren't ready for college work continue to do poorly, and may be asked to take some time off to gain some additional maturity. We also have a new program which is a parent’s version of Novasis, so that parents can monitor the student’s progress themselves. See below for instructions for getting started.
F@N: Suppose parents are worried about the academic progress of their son or daughter. May they call the teacher directly?
KB: It really isn’t the best idea for parents to contact professors directly. Part of the problem is a legal one. There are very strict federal regulations about what kind of information can be given out about students. A professor typically does not know whether he or she is authorized to discuss a student's records with a parent, and also does not know whether the person who has called is in fact the parent. In general, professors want to deal directly with the students themselves. Parents who feel the need to call about academic work should start by calling the Office of the Dean of the student’s college.
F@N: Suppose a parent is worried about the student. When is it appropriate to call and whom should they call?
KB: If there are problems, the first thing for the parent to do is to advise the student to seek help. Generally speaking, the parent should get involved in one of three cases. 1) The student is in trouble but doesn't seem to be reaching out for help. 2) The student has reached out for help, but the issue wasn't resolved. 3) The parent is concerned that the student is not being completely candid about the situation. In those cases, the parent should call either the Dean of Students Office or the University Counseling Center (for personal concerns) or the office of the Academic Dean of the student's particular college (in other words, if the student is in Arts and Sciences, call the office of the Dean of Liberal Arts and Science). These offices are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Again, many of the resources are listed on the page below. While college is a time for students to learn how to manage and navigate their own lives, as a parent you are always welcome to reach out to Villanova when you are worried about your son or daughter.