September 2010 Issue
Experts provide tips on making the transition from home to campus life.
Few things evoke such a wide range of emotions as sending a child off to college. Families spend months, even years, preparing for this event, but it still takes many of them by surprise. We talked with some experts at Ohio colleges and universities, who shared the following advice about dorm life and roommates, healthy eating and study skills.
Dorm Life and Roommates
Today, about 90 percent of college fresh-men arrive on campus having never shared a room. That’s a big change from 20 years ago, when the figure was only 5 percent. So today’s student moves into the college dorm with fewer negotiating skills and far less experience managing conflict. Not only are they sharing a room, which is typically smaller than the one they had at home, but they’re also sharing a bathroom with 30 of their best friends down the hallway. Needless to say, conflicts arise.
In an attempt to ward off problems before they occur, many colleges now require dorm dwellers to negotiate a roommate agreement. Roommates discuss how they’d like to share their living space, addressing issues like room cleanliness, visitors and study hours.
“The misconception is that you need to be best friends with your roommate, but what’s really necessary is being able to share a space and respect each other’s rights,” says Betsy Joseph, director of residence services at Kent State University
. “We often see the most difficult conflicts between friends who have been friends for years, but when they try to live together, it doesn’t always work out.” So, when your student calls home to say she’s having a problem with her roommate, ask if she’s spoken with her roommate or resident advisor (RA) about the issue. Residence advisors are trained to deal with these conflicts, and they can usually help resolve the issue. If the problem persists, the RA will refer it to the residence hall director. If the negotiations fail and the situation escalates, a move can usually be accommodated.
Doug Eck, residence hall director at The Ohio State University
, warns parents not to panic if their student has a roommate problem. “Don’t be alarmed when you get a crisis phone call from your child,” he says. “You’re probably only going to hear the woe-is-me story and not the celebratory times when they are happy. Just realize that the problem you hear about on Tuesday night could be completely resolved by Wednesday afternoon.”
In the end, students who live in the dorm gain a great deal from their outside-the-classroom college experience. “Roommates learn how to compromise, negotiate and come to a consensus,” Eck says.
Dawn Wilson, director of resident education and development at the University of Cincinnati
, suggests that roommates contact each other before move-in day to discuss what they will bring to the room. There won’t be space for two televisions, for instance, so it’s helpful to minimize belongings. “Take first impressions with a grain of salt and don’t get worked up about any initial reservations,” she says. “It’s a nervous and emotional time for everyone.”
Wilson adds that most roommate relationships work out just fine, and that it can be an opportunity for tremendous growth in getting to know someone with a different life experience. Robin Meyer of Hilliard agrees. Her son, Dylan, spent his freshmen year living in a quad where he had to adapt to sharing a small space with three other people. “It’s a learning experience in being patient and tolerant of everything and anything,” she says.
We’ve all heard horror stories about the “Freshman 15,” referring to the fact that many students gain weight while living in the dorm. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Janele Bayless, wellness coordinator and dietitian at the OSU Student Wellness Center. She believes that students who live in the dorm can still enjoy a healthy diet simply by making the right food choices.
Bayless offers four tips for making it work. First, eat breakfast, an important meal because it supplies energy for the day. She suggests stocking up on quick, easy and nutritious foods like granola bars, fruit and yogurt and cheese sticks.
Next, practice what Bayless refers to as the plate technique — trying to include three or four of the food groups in every meal. “For instance, if you’re eating cereal, add milk and a piece of fruit. Now you’ve included three food groups,” she says.
Another good tip is to listen to hunger cues, distinguishing between need and want. “If it’s a want, the ‘w’ becomes a wait,” Bayless says, “unless you’re going to a four-hour lab, in which case you should probably go ahead and eat.” If you’re not hungry but you want food, turn your attention to something you enjoy while you’re waiting. Paint your nails, play a video game or take a walk with a friend.
Finally, practice moderation. It’s important that students gauge how much they eat. They need to beware of late-night snacking and include physical activity every day. “If you really want to have pizza with friends, just limit yourself by setting healthy boundaries,” Bayless says. “And with exercise, I’m not worried about how much or how long. Just do something.”
When students transition to college, time management is one of the biggest issues they face, and unfortunately, procrastination can easily take hold. Gary Padak, dean of undergraduate studies at Kent State University, cautions students to make wise choices about how they spend their time. “This notion of spending two to three hours for
every hour of coursework doesn’t really work. Students are very busy and very social. I think that’s a difficult standard to adhere to,” he says. “Instead, make it a habit to spend time each day with most or all of your subjects — not just the homework.”
But students are faced with many distractions, and dorm living is certainly one of them. “The number-one problem students have adjusting to college is that the dorm is not a good place to study,” says Marty Hipsky, dean of first-year students at Ohio Wesleyan University
When Mark Riley of Upper Arlington headed to Ohio State two years ago, he realized early on that he couldn’t concentrate in the dorm room. “He found a study room in the basement of the dorm,” says Lauren Riley, his mom. “There were too many distractions everywhere else.”
Absenteeism is another problem. “You don’t realize how much you lose by not being in class,” Hipsky says. “Especially in discussion classes, a student who makes the effort to pose a strong question will actually feel the memory of that in his or her mind.” Beyond that, Hipsky suggests that students not over-commit to extracurricular activities and that they get to know their professors. “When a student is struggling, she should speak up and see the professor. We are here to address any academic concerns students have in and out of the classroom,” he says.
Finally, students need to take ownership of their education. Be responsible and realistic — and know when to take action. It may take some time to adjust to the college lifestyle, but it will no doubt be worth it in the end.