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Office of New Student Programs

Office of New Student Programs

Your Student's First Year

 
 

Welcome to Florida Gulf Coast University!

On behalf of the faculty, staff, and students at Florida Gulf Coast University, we welcome you into the FGCU family! Your participation in Orientation is a signal that many changes are right around the corner for your student, and for you. It is our hope that attending Orientation provided you with a great deal of useful information about Florida Gulf Coast University: the resources and opportunities here to assist your student, and the policies and procedures that guide the operation of the university. In addition, we hope the Orientation program laid the foundation for establishing a three-way partnership between your student, the university, and yourselves. You will continue to have an important role to play in the future success of your student, but the nature of that role will change as your child leaves home and begins a new life in Fort Myers.    

This Website is Just for You

While many of you went to college yourselves and may have gone on to graduate school, there is a significant percentage of families whose son or daughter will be the first individual in their family to attend college. Knowing this is true about our entering class, we feel it is important to provide parents and guardians of new students with some basic knowledge about the experiences of students who attend Florida Gulf Coast University. We want to give you a clear understanding of the issues that first-year students often tackle when they arrive on our campus, and how you can assist your son or daughter with these common concerns. 

The following information represents many years of experience and many thousands of hours of interaction with new students.  In no way does it imply that all freshmen will encounter difficulties in these areas, nor does it mean that your student will inevitably have problems in his or her first year.  Our purpose is to give you a better understanding of the kinds of situations we often work through with first-year students, so that parents can be better prepared to assist their students if it becomes clear that they need guidance.

We recommend that you use this website in conjunction with the Family Calendar that you received during Orientation.  While Your Student’s First Year will address the types of concerns students typically face, the calendar provides phone numbers and web addresses for information about critical resource units on our campus.  Think of these two pieces as working together; one identifies the issues, while the other can point you in the direction of the offices and services that can provide the assistance your child needs.    

The Issues That Affect First-Year Students at FGCU:

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Living Away From Home: Handling New found Freedom

For most new students, attending FGCU will mean living on their own for the first time. If you ask first-year students what they are looking forward to the most about going to college, a significant percentage of them will immediately respond with “…the freedom!  I get to do what I want, whenever I want (without Mom and Dad telling me what to do…)”.  While this sense of freedom is exhilarating and exciting to new students, it can also be viewed with some anxiety as the beginning of their first semester approaches. 

It doesn’t take more than a few weeks of college life before students realize that they are fully responsible for managing their daily affairs. You won’t be there to ensure that they attend class, eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, and finish their course assignments on time. These things are now their responsibility, and while they may have not thought too much about this before starting college, they now find that they have decisions to make every day.  Are they going to go to class or catch up on their sleep?  Are they going to read the chapters for the psychology quiz next week or are they going to hang out at the SoVi Pool and leave the reading for another day?  Are they going to go to a movie with friends, or are they going to start the paper that is due at the end of the week in their Composition I class? 

As new students adjust to taking control of their daily lives, it is common for them to struggle to find the balance between their academic lives and their lives outside of the classroom.  With the unstructured nature of college life, it is easy for students spend huge chunks of time socializing with their new friends: watching TV and movies, playing video games or a pickup game of basketball, or just spending hours talking…and forgetting that they are here for another purpose!

Success in college often boils down to how students handle the responsibility of being in charge of their own decisions.  While even the most mature first-year students will make decisions they later regret (“I shouldn’t have stayed up watching that movie, but we were having so much fun…I barely stayed awake in class the next day”), managing the transition to college life means making more good decisions than poor ones. 

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Explain the main difference between high school and college is the degree of personal responsibility that students have for making decisions and accepting their consequences.
  • It’s easy for new students to feel overwhelmed and physically exhausted when faced with all the decisions they never had to worry about when they lived with you! 
  • Do your best to avoid lecturing about poor choices; admonishments are easily tuned out, especially when empathy and support were sought.  Offer continual support and advice to keep the lines of communication open.
  • Mistakes are excellent teachers!  Help your student learn from his mistakes by focusing on what caused the problem in the first place, and what needs to change in the future.  For example, if there is disappointment over a midterm exam grade, what specific actions led to this outcome?  If given a second chance to go back and change something about their approach to the exam, what would he do differently? Are there any campus resources or individuals who can help him?
  • Resist the urge to intervene and solve problems that might arise from poor decision making. Although this might make things easier in the short-term, students gain far more maturity and self-confidence by getting their needs met on their own through the appropriate University channels. 
  • Staying focused on long-term goals can help students make good choices. In many cases, young people don’t always see the connection between the decisions they make today (skipping class, for example) and the ramifications of those decisions (a poor grade in a course) in the months…and years…to come.  
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Handling the Social Life on Campus: Finding Balance

Along with the freedom to decide how to spend their time each day, new students are faced with the serious choice of whether or not to participate in the party scene and social life that is a part of the college culture at every university.  Most students arrive at FGCU with some curiosity about what the social life is like on campus and in Fort Myers, and they want to meet new people and experience the social scene on their own terms, now that they have more control over how they spend their time. 

There is a focused effort on the part of the University to address the issues surrounding students’ use of alcohol.  The Office of Prevention and Wellness has spearheaded efforts to educate the University community about alcohol and drug use, and funds educational and social programming on campus (MyStudentBody.com is one example) that is aimed at reducing the number of students who abuse alcohol and other drugs. 

While there is a great deal of time and energy spent on providing students with a variety of alcohol-free activities and events from which to choose, there are students who make the decision to drink rather than seek out these activities on campus.  The bottom line is that the responsibility for decision-making (whether it is to skip class or attend lecture, study hard or put it off until later, or drink on the weekends rather than attend alcohol-free events) rests with the individual student.  Some students find it difficult to make the right decisions when there are so many fun things to do, and they spend too much time socializing (whether it involves alcohol or not), only to find that their course grades suffer as a direct result. 

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Have an open, honest conversation with your student about drinking and/or drug use, even if she does not drink. Discuss what you value, while allowing your student to talk about her prior experiences with alcohol and/or drugs, and what her expectations are for her time in college. 
  • Be a good listener; one who is both supportive and nonjudgmental, despite what you might discover about your student’s behavior.  If you keep the lines of communication open so she knows you are willing to talk about these issues, you’ll hear more about what is going on in the future. 
  • Keep the lecturing on alcohol use and misuse to a minimum, because it will only put your student on the defensive.  Talking “at” students is not as effective as talking “with” them, and showing that you respect and trust their ability to make good decisions. 
  • It can be more productive to focus the conversation on how to drink “smartly” and responsibly if one is going to make the decision to drink, and on understanding personal limits and creating a set of safety rules for going to parties or out at night, even if they do not drink themselves. 
  • Encourage moderation in whatever your child is doing.  The most successful students are those who learn to balance their academic, social, and personal lives.  
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Overcoming Homesickness: Everyone Misses Home!

New college students will experience some degree of homesickness when so much is new and different in their lives, especially living in a new place, sometimes many hours from home.  Friends from high school are often scattered all over the country, and the challenge of developing new friendships seems formidable. The routine and structure of high school is replaced by the freedom and flexibility of college life.  There are new academic expectations, and the volume of reading and course work can be much greater than it was in high school. 

When faced with so much change, many students find themselves longing for “the way things used to be,” the comfort of their family and old friends, home cooked meals, and their own beds!  Students react to these changes in different ways.  Some will do everything they can to stay busy, meeting lots of new people and taking advantage of every opportunity to try new things.  For other students the transition can be more difficult, and it can be a struggle for them to feel like Fort Myers is their new home.

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Many students think that they are the only one who is homesick. Help your son realize that all first-year students are going through exactly the same transition, and facing the same set of changes in their lives.  He’d be surprised to find out how many of his floor mates have said the very same thing to THEIR parents!    
  • Social media (texting, skype, google hangout, iChat) can be a quick, flexible, non-invasive way to “check in” and find out how things are going, and it encourages regular communication: We’ll share our lives with you and expect you to do the same! 
  • Send encouraging cards and small gifts that send the message that you are thinking of them.  Nothing beats a hand-written card or letter once in a while! 
  • Staying busy and being active can help curb homesickness.  Talk about how he can get started: by joining a student organization, attending a campus lecture, sporting event, concert, or other event.  This will help him begin to form a group of friends who share his interests and values, which can make the transition that much smoother. 
  • Perhaps the best thing new students can do for themselves during the first few months of school is to remain on campus for the majority of the weekends, so they can spend some time with peers who are in the same situation, and get to know them well. 
  • It is important for new students to give themselves enough time to regain control over their lives.  Some students can do this in a few weeks, while others need several semesters to feel completely comfortable with college life.  Everyone is different!  
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Forming New Friendships: It Takes Time to Meet People

One of the most common concerns of new students at FGCU is social; there is always a certain amount of anxiety over “fitting in” and feeling comfortable at the University, and developing a group of close friends.  Saying goodbye to family and longtime friends and moving to an environment where they know few people (if anyone), can be stressful.  They will have to brush off their interpersonal skills and be assertive about introducing themselves to their floor mates and classmates, while finding ways to spend more time with their new friends.  In some ways, the first semester of college feels like elementary school; new students have to remember how to “make friends”, since it has been many years since they have had to start over from scratch socially! 

The University devotes a great deal of time and energy to hosting a wide range of events during the fall semester.  Week of Welcome is the cornerstone of this programming.  Its events are designed to promote a sense of community among students, faculty, and staff at FGCU, and they provide excellent opportunities to meet people and learn about the University and its resources.  The Residence Life division of University Housing provides many social and educational events for new students to meet their peers in the residence halls, form new friendships, and get involved in programming geared toward helping new students make good choices in their lives.  As the year progresses, students get much better at knowing what is happening on campus, and how to get involved in the things that interest them.

The advice of campus professionals:

  • If your child expresses that she hasn’t met a lot of people and doesn’t have any close friends at FGCU like she had in high school, remind her that she’s known her closest friends for up to twelve years, but may have only been on campus for a few weeks!  It takes time to develop the kinds of deep, meaningful friendships that are built on shared experiences, trust, and support, but it will happen! 
  • As the first few weeks of the semester pass, ask about your student’s social life, and discuss how (and with whom) she is spending her time.  Has she met a lot of people? Are there activities she plans to join?  This can help you to understand her needs, and allow you to make some suggestions about how to ease the transition to a new social environment. 
  • Some students handle their fear of loneliness by spending a lot of time with friends or acquaintances from high school, or by rooming with someone they know from their hometown.  While this can provide some much needed security when so much is new and different, these students often say in hindsight that they wish they had been more assertive in meeting people in their first semester, and now that several semesters have passed, they feel like they are playing “catch up”. 
  • Encourage her to seek out the advice of her Resident Assistant, floor mates, or upper class students, regarding how to get involved on campus. Provide LOTS of encouragement to try new things, which can be a great way to meet new and interesting people. 
  • One of the easiest ways to get started is to talk about the kinds of activities she enjoyed doing in high school, and how she can continue to be involved in these things while at college. 
  • The online Master Calendar of Events and Office of Student Involvement website are great resources for discovering campus activities.  
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Living with a Roommate: Communication is Key

A consistent concern of students living in the residence halls (which totals nearly 90% of first-year students) surrounds the issue of “the roommate”.  Will I get along with my roommate?  Will we be friends, or will we hate each other?  What can I do if I am having problems dealing with this person?  While the process of living with a complete stranger can be stressful for even the most easy-going student, it is important to remember that any new relationship will have its natural ups and downs, and the overwhelming majority of roommates live together well and form good relationships in spite of the odds that may seem to be against it! 

The living situation in the residence halls promotes the development of many essential skills.  Students learn to be assertive and to stand up for their rights, to be clear communicators, to establish rules and guidelines, and to solve problems and work through conflicts.  While there are procedures in the University Housing system to handle situations that become intolerable, most students say (in hindsight) that while it may have been stressful at the time, they learned a lot about dealing with people from their time in the residence halls, and it was a fantastic experience!

 The advice of campus professionals:

  • You can curb potential problems by preparing your student to be tolerant of others, and understand that his habits may be just as alien to his roommate as the roommate’s are to him!
  • Discuss the need to be open to new perspectives and to be non-judgmental; respect the other person’s space, belongings, customs, and traditions, and expect the same respect in return.
  • It is always a good strategy for new roommates to create a set of “ground rules” for their living space, which can include everything from sharing food and personal items to having friends over.
  • Despite what you might hear from your student, do not automatically assume that the roommate is completely to blame for a crisis. In the vast majority of roommate conflicts, the main issue boils down to differences in preferences, habits, or values that can be worked out with good communication and open discussion.
  • Be supportive, listen to concerns, and work together to discuss possible solutions to any issues that arise…but let him handle things on his own unless it is clear that his well-being or safety is at risk.
  • Roommate problems don’t always necessitate one student moving out, or a roommate switch. Remind your student that he can talk with his Resident Assistant or Resident Director if difficulties arise, and get some immediate assistance in mediating problems and coming up with successful solutions. 
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Time Management: Creating a Plan is Important

The issue of how to make the most effective use of free time is fundamental to achieving academic success in college.  Most new college students are used to a highly structured school day, filled with classes and extracurricular activities. When they begin college, however, they may only have two or three classes a day (and often fewer than that), and must decide how to use their remaining time.  Many new students feel as though they have “nothing to do” when not in class, since many college courses base the final grade on a midterm and a final exam, and there are far fewer graded assignments than there were in high school.  When that first exam is several months away, it is very easy to put off doing the “hidden” work (such as textbook reading, review of lecture notes, or working practice problems) that is so important to staying on top of the material in a course. As many students discover around the time of their first midterm exam, falling behind in a course is easier than catching up! 

Students have to develop their own systems for making effective use of their time, and prioritizing all the elements of their day, including classes, study time, meal times, involvement in campus organizations, and work time on the job (if applicable)…even time to relax, pause, and reflect!  While there are many different time management strategies, it is wise to build a schedule around the blocks of time spent in class, and build in specific set times to study, eat, work, and socialize.  The important thing for students to realize is that no matter what strategy they use, they need to do what works best for them and stick with it, but be flexible enough to make changes to their organizational style if they don’t see good results. 

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Explain that a lot of the time that used to be spent in class between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. is now going to be “free time.”  How is your student going to spend it? 
  • Help her create a time management plan for her week.  She has her academic course schedule, so it should be easy to create a time grid to identify large blocks of free time. Standing commitments (like varsity athletics or work obligations) should be blocked out on this weekly “master calendar,” so she can visualize how to build in study time and other activities. 
  • Students are given a University Datebook as a gift from New Student Programs. Take some time to look at the datebook together, and talk about how to use it properly…and have a discussion about how to maintain good balance between academic and other activities.
  • New students need to learn that they can make very effective use of the time during their day that used to be spent in school.  Of course, the natural inclination of many students is to do anything BUT study, but if they can stay focused on academics between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., this will free up time in the evening to exercise, pursue fun activities, or get involved in campus organizations. 
  • As a general rule, students should plan for up to two hours of study outside of class for each hour spent in class.  A 15 s.h. course load would thus require up to 30 hours of study per week.  Spread out over 7 days (not four or five) and broken down into 60-90 minute blocks of time at several different points during the day, this is much easier to handle. 
  • Check in with your student every once in a while during the semester, and ask if her time management techniques are working well.  If she is struggling, work together to identify positive changes to her time management plan.  
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Academic Issues: Finding Self-Motivation to Succeed

Many new students find it difficult to maintain their previous level of academic performance in their first year of college.  College classes are not nearly as structured as courses in high school, and much more responsibility is placed on the student to attend class, be an active participant, and do what is necessary to learn and process the material.  Professors will expect students to think critically about the material in a course, and understand it at a level that goes beyond rote memorization.  The bar has been raised to a new level, and it takes some time for students to adjust to the academic rigor of a university like FGCU.

Students come to FGCU with a range of academic abilities, skills, and habits, and a significant percentage of new students readily admit they did not need to study a great deal in high school to get good grades.  It is a common feeling among new students that the study strategies that worked for them in high school will work equally as well in college, and that is not the case.  Most students figure out after their first midterm exams that they need to go to every class, take good notes, keep up with the assigned readings, turn assignments in on time, and study regularly and with great intensity, if they want to continue to get the kind of grades they got in high school.  However, it can take some students several semesters (along with being placed on academic warning) to realize they must make some substantial adjustments to their study habits if they want to achieve their goals. 

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Explain that college-level exams and papers require a great deal more preparation and work than what they did in high school.  Even those students who didn’t have to study in high school will have to work hard at FGCU to reach their goals. 
  • Students need to attend class, stay on top of the reading and assignments, and put in the study time that is necessary to do their best work.  They should approach their first semester with an attitude that they have to work harder than they ever have before, and be open to trying study strategies that they may have not needed in high school. 
  • Be realistic in your expectations, and be as supportive, patient, and understanding as you can while your student adjusts to the academic expectations of professors and the University itself. 
  • Show your support by asking periodically about how his studies are going and what he is learning, but know that there is a fine line between expressing your concern and being overbearing.  It may not take too much questioning for your student to tell you to back off, and stop “pressuring” him…even when this was never your intention! 
  • If necessary, help your student brainstorm ideas for making improvements to his overall study plan.  You might suggest talking with the instructor of the course during office hours, forming a study group, and/or working with a tutor at the FIRST sign of anxiety about a course. 
  • Your student’s academic advisor is another excellent resource, especially if he can’t pinpoint what has to change in his study habits.
  • Students cannot be passive at a University the size of FGCU.  The resources are here, but they will have to be assertive and seek out what they need.  If they wait for someone to come to them, they are going to miss out on a great deal of what the University has to offer.  
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Identity Development: Who am I? What do I Value? What do I Believe?

The issue of developing a stable sense of identity is one that is central to the college years.  Adolescence and young adulthood is a time of life filled with thinking and reflection on the core elements that form one’s sense of self: personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and beliefs and values.  One of the most valuable aspects of attending a university like FGCU is the opportunity that students have to learn about subjects they may have never been exposed to before, and discuss ideas and viewpoints that may differ a great deal from their own, which will inevitably lead students to question their own belief systems.  What do I believe and why do I believe it? 

The learning that takes place outside of the classroom is just as valuable to the development of a student’s identity as what goes on inside the classroom.  As new students interact with their peers, they will find that some of them have brought a completely different set of life experiences to college.  They will spend hours talking about every topic imaginable, and they are going to find that people hold many different opinions on an issue. This interaction will require students to think a great deal about their own opinions and beliefs, and may lead them to openly question why they have felt a certain way about an issue. 

For many students, attending college away from home provides the comfort zone they need to experiment with their identities and think of themselves in different ways than they may have in the past.  The exposure to so many new intellectual areas of study and opportunities for involvement outside of the classroom will open doors they never knew existed.  For some students this is exhilarating, and they want to experience as many new things as they can.  For others, having too many options and choices is an unsettling experience.  They may feel lost and overwhelmed by the personal decisions they have to make, and concerned that making one choice will eliminate other possibilities that are an even better fit with who they are as people. 

The advice of campus professionals:

  • Take a few deep breaths, and count to ten!  The fact that your child is asking these internal questions means that you have done a GREAT job of raising your son or daughter!  A certain degree of confusion and disorientation is normal, as young people begin the process of consolidating their self-understanding. 
  • To foster the exploration that is central to identity development, encouragement your student to try new things and participate in diverse activities that she may never have had the chance to try before. 
  • Do not be surprised if the student who was so certain that she wanted to major in psychology, suddenly changes her major…or the son who professed to be very conservative politically now tells you that he supports the Green Party.  These sorts of changes reflect what is going on internally, as your child works through the process of regaining a sense of personal equilibrium. 
  • Of course, not all students will undergo the kinds of transformations described above.  Some appear to change very little, and have a relatively easy time incorporating the things they are learning.  For other students, however, attending college can trigger a significant change in their identity and the way they think about themselves. 
  • It is understandable for you to feel a certain amount of anxiety as you see the changes in your child.  What happened to the person I knew?  He seems so different and we don’t seem to have anything in common!  While it might appear as though your son is rejecting the values you instilled in him from a young age, many studies of adolescents and young adults have shown that the value systems of individuals in their mid to late 20s most closely mirror those of their families, giving proof to the saying that the apple never falls far from the tree! 
  • Trust in the manner you raised your child, and know that these core values will ultimately change the least as he becomes a young adult.
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Some Final Thoughts

The issues that student services professionals across campus have identified as central to the first semester and first year tend to focus on similar themes:

Taking Personal Responsibility and Making Good Choices

An important theme that emerges is how new students handle the freedom and responsibility that comes with attending college.  With nobody around to insist that they go to class and keep up with their coursework, eat right, and get enough rest and exercise, students have to take charge of these things on their own.  This can be a huge change for some students, and when left on their own to decide if they should study or do something else, will find it hard to make the right choice.  Students are also responsible for knowing how the University operates, what services exist to help them, and for taking the initiative to ask for the assistance they need to work through their concerns. 

Time Management is the Foundation of Success

While students need to learn HOW to study for college courses, and refine their techniques in note taking and reading comprehension, a more fundamental issue is one of how to get the most out of the larger amount of unstructured time that makes up the typical day in college.  The most successful students create a plan for organizing their time, have a system to remind themselves of important dates and assignments, and have the motivation and the focus to follow through and get things done on time.

FGCU is Full of Opportunities for Growth

Another theme that emerges is that it takes time to adjust to the size of Florida Gulf Coast University, and all it has to offer.  There are several hundred student organizations, fraternity and sorority life, intramural and club sports, student and residence hall government, theatre and music ensembles, and that is just the beginning.  There are more than 50 different programs of study, and a vast array of opportunities to complete the mandatory service learning requirement, work with professors on research projects, and get involved in academic pursuits outside of the classroom.  The range of opportunities is extensive, and while it can be invigorating and exciting to face so many choices, it can also leave some students feeling overwhelmed about such things as their choice of major and possible career path.

 

When it comes to the advice these professionals have for you to assist your son our daughter in handling these important issues, there are also several common themes:

Communicate, Communicate…Communicate!

Perhaps the most important of these is communication with your child.  There is an expectation on the part of some families that the University should look out for the welfare of their student to a much greater degree than is possible given the staffing and resources of the institution.  While there is a support structure in place to assist students, it is not possible to see to it that they are going to class, studying enough, and making mature decisions about such things as alcohol use.  There is no substitute for having a series of open, honest discussions with your child before (s)he leaves for college about a number of vital topics: setting goals and identifying priorities, alcohol and drug use, budgeting both time and money, locating university resources, and the like.  Talk about your expectations in these areas, listen to what (s)he has to say, and be clear about your willingness to be supportive in the future.  This kind of talk with your student can be instrumental in laying a foundation for success, and it needs to happen before the first semester begins. 

Be a Connection to the University for Your Student…and be a Sounding Board

Another theme that emerges in the advice from student affairs professionals is the role you can play in helping your child brainstorm solutions to common problems.  In the emotion of the moment, students may not remember the kinds of offices and individuals that are on campus to help them, but you can remind your student of these services, and encourage her/him to seek them out.  You can be an objective, clear-headed voice when it comes to helping your child identify areas of behavior change, and in working through possible solutions to difficulties that may occur.  In this manner you can form the three-way partnership between the University, your student, and yourselves that is so important to her/his future success. 

Be a Friend to Your Student

At the same time, it will be important to watch the manner in which you make suggestions, provide encouragement and support, and express your ideas to your student.  With the amount of responsibility that is now on his/her shoulders (and the perceived pressure that goes with it), it works much better to speak to your child as a supportive mentor and friend rather than someone who is always telling him/her exactly what to do and how to act.  Your child will want to know that your love and support is unconditional, and that you understand what (s)he is going through.  Too much telling rather than sharing or suggesting can send the wrong message, and (s)he may tune you out, and feel as though you won’t give the kind of support (s)he needs when things are going poorly.

Letting Go Can be the Hardest Thing to do!

A final thread that emerges from the advice of University staff and faculty is that you need to take a step back and let your student assume responsibility for her/his own life.  It can be very uncomfortable to “let go” and allow your child to make her/his own decisions and choices, especially if you feel these decisions are not in her/his best interests.  It can be even harder to watch your child have to work through the consequences of poor decision-making that may have far-reaching consequences.  In the end, however, she/he will learn far more from dealing with their own problems than if they do not have to face the consequences of their own behavior.   

 

We wish you and your student all the best! 

If we can ever be of assistance to you,

contact the Office of New Student Programs:

239-590-7875 (7957)

parents@FGCU.edu