Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, American college students are shifting from a fall 2020 semester in the classroom to taking classes online, often from their parents’ home.
Students aren’t alone in making the adjustment. Parents, siblings and other family members are also seeing their original plans evolve as college instruction once again comes home.
Kristen Renn, professor of Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education in Michigan State University’s College of Education, studies student success, identity and development. Renn offers her tips for students and parents in navigating “campus life at home” to ensure both academic and domestic success.
Don’t wait to have the conversations
A message to both parents and college students: “Do not wait until moments of tension to address expectations for what is working and what is not working. Don’t wait until there is a massive pile of laundry to talk about what everyone’s household roles and responsibilities are. Do it upfront to avoid confrontation — or worse, resentment.
“You cannot expect one another to be mind readers. So, while it may feel uncomfortable at the time, putting needs out into the open ensures everyone hears one another out.
“Just as important as these conversations are is having both parents and students be open to changing expectations. If a family sets a precedent — albeit for chores, privacy, study spaces, expected family time — everyone needs to be open to changing things and being flexible. It might take some time for college students to realize that something they thought could or should work doesn’t.”
Be intentional about physical space.
To college students: “It’s critical to be purposeful about your learning space. We’ve been in this pandemic for six months and learning from home is much less ‘ad-hoc’ now than it was during spring semester. If you’re sharing technology or study space with family members, talk with them about when you’ll need to participate in synchronous learning so that you can feel, see and listen more actively.
“Additionally, you need to set personal boundaries for yourself. You’ll find it really beneficial to have a separate, dedicated study space that’s different from your ‘Netflix and hangout’ space. Keeping them separate — even if they’re in the same room — will help to keep you in school-mode when you need to be.
“Be clear with your parents, siblings and other household members where your private space is. And if you need more privacy — for example, to access campus mental health resources or attend a group meeting — don’t wait to find a place that can ensure total privacy. This can be outside, in your basement, in a space away from the house, etc.”
To parents: “Understand that under what would be ‘normal’ circumstances, your college student wouldn’t be home. They’re looking for independence and just because they’re sleeping where they did in high school doesn’t mean it’s a high school space anymore. Establish — and agree upon — where in the house is school or work space and where is space to relax and socialize and enforce it.
“You also really need to respect a student’s privacy even though they’re under your roof. Plenty of these students were planning to go to college to discover themselves and explore new opportunities. Part of residential experiences is trying new things, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. If your student is having Zoom calls — for social or other reasons — it doesn’t mean you need to ask what it is about.”
Stick to a schedule
To college students: “Every first-year student is adjusting to a non-high school schedule and sometimes it takes even longer than the first year. At home, you may have prerecorded lectures and might not have specific chunks of time carved out for things like walking to class or meeting friends for lunch; however, this doesn’t mean that you should go without chunks of time for class, exercise, breaks or socializing. The key is consistency: set a schedule and stick to it as best as you can. This will train your brain and body to respond to cues, like when it’s time for class, time to go for a walk, time for meals and so on.”
To parents: “Similar to respecting space, remember that students aren’t in high school anymore and in the interest of them growing like they otherwise would outside of the house, let them stick to their own schedule. You cannot be the ones telling them to log in and do classwork as if they were in high school again — if they aren’t doing the work, it’s on them. If as a family you decide to do things like family dinners, it’s important to communicate early on so that they can build that into their schedules.
“Also, recognize that a college schedule isn’t a 9 to 5 like a typical workday — nor an 8 to 3 like many K-12 schools. They may be trying to join clubs, access campus resources (like an academic adviser or even therapist) or integrate as much as possible into campus life in this strange time as they can. A lot of that happens outside of ‘regular’ hours. Honor that they are figuring it out just like the rest of us.”