Parents of First Year Students

It is not uncommon for university students to have questions or concerns in any of the following areas: academic performance, academic integrity (e.g. decisions regarding cheating, plagiarism), alcohol and drugs, career choice, challenge of tolerance in a diverse community, changing relationships with family and friends at home, choosing the right course of study, credit card debt, involvement in campus life, sexual activity and choices, stress/depression, and any number of other things that no one anticipated.

Success at university is a matter of meeting challenges as they arise. Success is a team effort – no one should expect to have to do it alone. Everyone is important – the student, parents, faculty, staff, and other students. Together we can help your student succeed.

We have put together a number of “Tips” on how parents can help students with transition to university.

Dealing with academics

Time management is critical to academic success.  Encourage your student to attend classes – late nights interfere with class attendance.  Use of a daily planner and wall calendar are highly recommended.  Discuss time management skills; share your experience in meeting deadlines.

Mid-term test marks are often much lower than high school grades – the first “C” is traumatic.  Help students AND family set realistic expectations for university (it is different from high school).  Share your own struggles and suggestions for coping.  Encourage daily studying and setting realistic short and long term goals.  Focus on competence rather than competition. Enhanced study skills may be required.  Encourage the student to seek help from the professor, the student advisor in their Faculty, or the Academic Skills Program Coordinator in the Student Success Centre.  Remind the student that study skills workshops are designed for all university students, not just “problem” or remedial students (this is different from high school).

The student doesn’t like the course

Courses may be changed without academic penalty at the beginning of term in the “Drop & Add” period – dates are in the University Calendar.

Pressures of succeeding

The pressures of succeeding at university can be significant and it is important for students to understand the academic expectations placed on them. McMaster places a high priority on academic integrity and any form of dishonesty will have consequences.  The student should seek out the academic resources available to them (Teaching Assistants, academic skills offered by the Student Success Centre, etc.).  Emphasize the opportunities at university for making personal choices on a daily basis.

Dealing with independence

Living with a roommate or housemates is a learning experience. If problems arise, offer support from the sidelines but remember it’s not always the roommate’s fault (there are three sides to every story).  Each residence floor has a CA (Community Advisor) to help resolve problems.  This is a chance for students to grow as they work to resolve their own problems.  Take the time to ask about your student’s house-mate(s).

Be ready to talk about the importance of understanding and respecting community standards, taking care of property, and abiding by the laws of the land.

Living at home involves change as well.  Be prepared for your student not to be at home as much as before –– studying in the library, doing research, evening classes, new extracurricular activities, and socializing on campus; these are all part of university life.  University classes and activities often have irregular hours –– be ready to accommodate the variety in your student’s schedule.

It can be discouraging to be a small fish in a big pond after being a big fish in a small pond.  Set realistic expectations –– remember and remind your student that competition is higher than in high school in all areas (academics, sports, school leadership, etc.).  Be encouraging –– encourage participation, personal growth and self-discovery.  Excellence does not always mean being first.  It takes time to learn to manage money, time and personal health.  Be aware of choices your student is making in these areas, and talk about consequences.  Encourage personal responsibility.  Mistakes are part of the learning and maturing process.  Offer support that helps your student solve their own problems.

There is significant freedom on campus in choices about dating and sexual activity.  Be sure your student knows about resources on campus such as the Student Wellness Centre.  Educational material from these offices is readily available on many topics including date rape and personal safety in relationships.  Encourage personal responsibility.

Family crises can happen while a student is at university.  Be open with your student about family illness, death, financial problems, etc.  Encourage your student to make use of on-campus resources when problems occur (e.g. the personal counsellors in the Student Wellness Centre, the Chaplaincy Centre, Community Advisors in residence).  Encourage your student to contact their Associate Dean or Faculty academic advisor immediately about postponing examinations or assignments in cases of severe crisis like a death in the family

Dealing with social aspects of university life

Finding a new group of friends can be intimidating.  Remind students that friendships take time and effort and encourage participation in the New Marauder Orientation (NMO)  program (formerly know as Welcome Week) and in social activities, clubs, and sports throughout the year. Encourage participation in things they enjoy, e.g., sports, music, debating, etc.  Remember that friendships at a university make it easier to succeed.  Relationships with a significant other and close friends at home will change and may end.  Discuss that long distance relationships are difficult to maintain – encourage communication.  Encourage the making of new friends but keeping old friends.

The diversity of a campus can be overwhelming.  Remember that a university is more diverse (in ethnic and religious identity, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, physical ability, etc.) than most high schools. Encourage open-mindedness and the privilege of encountering and being able to explore diversity.

Students often experiment with a new “self”.  University is a time to explore new identities so be prepared to talk about choices your student is making.

If your student is the first in your family to attend university, the jargon and experiences of university may be new for parents.  Students still depend on parents’ life experiences.  Share your student’s enthusiasm for this new environment, and enjoy their chance to learn and grow.

For more information about orientation for incoming first year students visit the Student Success Centre Orientation Section.

MacLingo – What does it all mean?

ACT – Alternative Commuting & Transportation
B. A. – Bachelor’’s Degree
CA – Community Advisor
Cootes Paradise – a conservation area surrounding the campus
Course Syllabus – programme or outline of a course of study
Drop & Add – a designated number of days in which students may drop courses and add others
ESL – English as a Second Language
Grade Points – the method for determining final grades is given in the course outline
HSR – Hamilton Street Railway
IRC – Inter-Residence Council
ISS – International Student Services
Lab – Laboratory Work
Load – the number of credit hours a student takes during a semester
Major – an academic discipline that is studied in depth
McWork – McMaster Work-Study Program
Mosaic – McMaster University’s Enterprise Information System including Student Information
MSU – McMaster Students Union
MUSC – McMaster University Student Centre
OSCARplus – Online Student Career And Recruitment plus – Job Posting, Career and Development Portal
RM – Residence Manager
SAS – Student Accessibility Services
Sil – student newspaper
SSC – Student Success Centre
SOCS – Society of Off-Campus Students
SWELL – Student Wellness Education Lower Lounge
TA – Teaching Assistant
Tutorial – a class in which a tutor gives intensive instruction in some subject to an individual student or a small group of students