A primer for parents

Campus Life, Health

5 issues your first-year student might be facing and how to help 

IMAGE_STORY_Primer_parentsExcitement, anticipation and optimism tempered with a touch of trepidation or anxiety is a pretty accurate description of how many first-year university students feel just before their first semester begins.

But those first-year students aren’t the only people going through a big life change—parents and loved ones are making the move from decision makers to trusted advisors. "The transition from high school to university is huge for students—and it’s tough for parents too," says Marnie Linden, mom to two MacEwan alumni. "We’re having to let go, and that can be hard."

There are lots of things you can do to help make that transition easier for both yourself and your first-year student. Here are some issues to consider, interspersed with a bit of advice from Marnie and her son Harrison. who is both a MacEwan alumnus and the university's residence life coordinator.

“ The transition from high school to university is huge for students—and it’s tough for parents too. We’re having to let go, and that can be hard.” Marnie Linden, mom to two MacEwan alumni 

Issue 1: This isn’t high school anymore

First-year students need to make decisions about their classes, coursework, social lives and personal well-being. And the expectations of university students are much higher than what they may have been used to in high school. Be patient as your student goes through this change and help them celebrate their successes along the way.

How parents can help:

While it may be tempting to do everything in your power to make sure your student succeeds, university is also a chance for your student to spread their wings and gain independence. 

That doesn’t mean your student has to go it alone. In addition to your encouragement and support, there are lots of resources on campus that can help, including program advisors, peer support, Writing and Learning Services, Math/Stats Learning Centre, the Library, Aboriginal Education Centre, Services to Students with Disabilities, counselling, and SAMU’s Breakfast Club.

Knowing which supports are out there can help you point your student in the right direction if they are struggling. The Getting Started section of the university website is a great place to begin, and our collection of tips and stories for first-year students is another helpful resource.

"Some students don’t want to ask for help—even when they need it—so talk about how often you want to check in with them in advance and make a plan," says Marnie's son, Harrison Linden who is a 2016 Bachelor of Arts alumnus and Residence Life Coordinator at the MacEwan Residence. "When you do call, text or email your student, ask how their classes are going, if they’re making friends and if they’re happy."

Issue 2: Money matters

Student finances can be stressful, and figuring out how to manage that first student loan or finding a financial balance between work and university life can be tricky.

How parents can help:

Make sure your student knows about different ways to help manage the cost of their education, including:

Issue 3: What’s the end game?

It’s natural for parents to be worried about their first-year student’s job prospects and to be focused on the bigger picture, but right now your student is probably more worried about getting through their first batch of exams and papers than signing their first job offer.

How parents can help:

Be understanding and know that many students change their minds—and their majors. If your student is having second thoughts, encourage them to visit a program advisor (program advisors are also a great resource throughout your student’s academic career). Learn more about how program advisors can help from registration to convocation.

When it’s time to start thinking about the next steps, suggest your student visit Career Services or our Grad School Liaison for information and advice. Events like the Summer Job Fair and Grad School Fair are also great places to find information and inspiration.

Issue 4: Feeling safe

You’ve spent the last 17 years or so making sure your child is safe, so it’s natural for safety to be among your first questions as a parent. MacEwan is located in the heart of the city, but it’s also a safe and positive place.

How parents can help:

Remind your student about the things they can do to make sure they stay safe on campus, like adding the Security Services number to their contacts list, using the Safe Walk program and signing up for MacEwan Alert. Check out our six safety tips.

Issue 5: Finding a new comfort zone

There are literally thousands of new people to meet at MacEwan University, but it’s not always easy to reach out and say hello. Lots of graduating students tell us that their biggest regret was waiting until their third or fourth year to find the courage to get involved and meet people.

How parents can help:

This is a good time to be your student’s cheerleader. There are so many different clubs, activities and events on campus to choose from—make sure you encourage your student to give them a try.


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Read more stories to welcome your first-year student to MacEwan University:


Changing Minds Footer Image - 3 DotsThis story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.

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