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Aimee Keane

A parent’s guide to freshman year

Aimee Keane shares her advice on navigating the first few weeks of university.
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Aimee Keane, September 9, 2013 1:39:27 PM

We’re now well into back to school season, and hundreds of thousands of almost-adults have completed a week as a freshman at university. For the young and impressionable student, freshman year means freedom, no curfew, and a bright open future, while their poor parents might be feeling something closer to an anxiety attack – sleepless nights and constant worry about how their precious offspring are managing with this new lifestyle.

Though I have not sent a child to university, let alone had any children of my own, I have managed to both leave the nest and successfully complete an undergrad degree at The University of Western Ontario (commonly known now as Western University). To ease some of those classic parental anxieties, here are my tips on the advice every parent should offer a teen heading to frosh week.

“Take as many classes as humanly possible.”
I know us millenials have a bad (and frequently warranted) rap for having a lack of focus and aimlessly attempting to find some direction, but I think this a good thing for a frosher. There is nothing more important than being encouraged to learn as much as possible. First year is all about exploration and discovery (yes, all kinds!) and this also applies to what your kid originally decides to go to university to study. At 18 or 19, most kids haven’t been exposed to the stuff in a Bio Chem lab or a philosophical debate. These are the experiences that influence a kid’s path and let them see what they do and don’t like.

“Do your readings, but don’t buy the text books.”
Going from high school level homework to 500 pages of reading a week for five different classes is more than a little daunting, but when your student has done his or her readings, the class will be that much easier to handle. There is no widespread trick to speed reading; it’s just an acquired skill. What I can tell you, as it relates to books, is that the university new book store can make a book on the history of literary criticism look pretty enticing, with its shiny new cover and audiobook. The truth is that I was able to find 95 per cent of my required readings at the used book store on campus (at nearly 60 per cent off the new book store price). Plus, these books came with benefit of margin notations that made comprehending Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man that much more manageable.

“Get a robe.”
Better yet, just buy your daughter a robe. Perhaps this one is more necessary for a girl heading into residence than a guy. I am alumnus of the notorious Saugeen Residence at UWO, and my poor father was wholeheartedly uncomfortable with the idea of his young daughter sharing a bathroom with the boys on my res floor. Something about him being 18 once too? So he went off and got me a plush robe to wear to and from the bathroom. It came in handy when I had to take a shower before an early AM class!

“Put yourself out there.”
This may seem more than obvious, but it’s the most important rule. A university experience is nothing without the life-long friendships you create. The trick is that most of these lasting friendships – a future maid of honour or even husband – are formed from the connections that kids make in the first weeks, and typically days at frosh week. Tell your son or daughter to keep his or her res door open during the day so people pop in. They should introduce themselves to the people in the elevator, at breakfast, and in class before all the cliques are formed – and they will form. It may feel like they’re on the campaign trail – introducing themselves, shaking hands, smiling incessantly, but it really works! If they balk, have them consider the fact that almost everyone else on campus is in the same boat – excited, a little scared, and typically away from their families and friends for the first time. Everyone is ready to make new friends. There will likely never be another experience like first year – where absolute strangers are as receptive – again.

MORE LIFE ADVICE FROM AIMEE KEANE:

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