Freshman Friends: A Key To Coping in College

Quartz: “A 2008 poll conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU found that 40% of college students said they felt stress regularly—and almost one in five seriously considered dropping out of school. With those high stress levels in mind, the researchers, including Stanford economics professor Matthew Jackson and former Stanford doctoral candidate Desmond Ong, put nearly 200 Stanford freshmen—who had recently moved into first-year dorms—through a battery of personality tests and questionnaires.”

“Their goal was to determine which students occupied central roles in these different networks—notably groups based on trust, fun, and excitement. The researchers found that individuals were more particular about whom they included in their trust networks compared to groups related to fun and excitement. In those selective trust networks, freshmen were more likely to include highly empathic students. In contrast, when students wanted to feel positive and have fun, they were more likely to seek out dorm mates high in happiness.”

“Just as you need the right outfit for a particular occasion, college freshmen need certain friends for certain situations. When you need a dose of fun, engaging with a positive and happy friend can lift your mood. But that friend may not be the best person to go to when you need someone to confide in. An empathic friend, on the other hand, may be just the right person for helping you through difficult and challenging times.”

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Snooze Alarm: Should Teens Get More Sleep?

The New York Times: “Many high-school-age children across the United States now find themselves waking up much earlier than they’d prefer as they return to school. They set their alarms, and their parents force them out of bed in the morning, convinced that this is a necessary part of youth and good preparation for the rest of their lives. It’s not. It’s arbitrary, forced on them against their nature, and a poor economic decision as well. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that teenagers get between nine and 10 hours of sleep. Most in the United States don’t.”

“A Brookings Institution policy brief investigated the trade-offs between costs and benefits of pushing back the start times of high school in 2011. It estimated that increased transportation costs would most likely be about $150 per student per year. But more sleep has been shown to lead to higher academic achievement. They found that the added academic benefit of later start times would be equivalent to about two additional months of schooling, which they calculated would add about $17,500 to a student’s earnings over the course of a lifetime. Thus, the benefits outweighed the costs.”

“Marco Hafner, Martin Stepanek and Wendy Troxel conducted analyses to determine the economic implication of a universal shift of middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. at the earliest. This study was stronger than the Brookings one in a number of ways … It examined downstream effects, like car accidents, which can affect lifetime productivity. And it considered multiplier effects, as changes to the lives of individual students might affect others over time. They found that delaying school start times to 8:30 or later would contribute $83 billion to the economy within a decade. The gains were seen through decreased car crash mortality and increased student lifetime earnings.”

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Empty Nesters: How Parents Cope

The Wall Street Journal: “When a child leaves for college, parents have the happiness of seeing their son or daughter mature and start off on an independent life. They also miss constant connection, fret about their child’s well-being, and worry about the way the relationship may change.Esther Boykin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Washington, D.C., says that empty nesters may experience a type of grief—for the loss of the relationship as it was.”

She explains: “Parents experience an ambiguous loss, or a loss that doesn’t really look like loss. Their child is typically just a few hours or a short plane ride away, so they haven’t lost them. Yet the emotional experience of their absence can feel incredibly profound and permanent. This person whom you have centered your life around for 18 years is no longer around on a daily basis and is loosening the connection that had been all encompassing.”

“The greatest challenge for parents is that they know that the goal of good parenting is to a raise self-sufficient, independent adult, but the realization of that goal creates a deep sense of loss that can be confusing. It’s like realizing that you did an awesome job and the reward is that the person you love most is leaving you for good.”

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Application Anxiety: Please Don’t Ask About College

The Wall Street Journal: “Anxiety over college admissions is reaching a fever pitch as high-school seniors await decisions from colleges for next fall. Making it worse, students and parents say, is a barrage of unwelcome and inappropriate questions from prying adults. Sales of T-shirts reading, ‘Don’t ask me about college. Thanks,’ are rising on Redbubble … Some parents make their homes a college-free zone and ban all talk on the topic.”

“Spencer Neville, 17, has started dreading social encounters with adults.” She comments: “Every adult you meet, all they want to talk to you about is, ‘Where are you going to college? What do you want to study?’ They ask, ‘What’s your top school?’ and I say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a top school’.” High school counselor Brennan Barnard observes: “People aren’t going to walk up to someone at a cocktail party and ask, ‘How much do you weigh?’ But they’ll ask a student, ‘How did you do on the SATs?’.”

“The speculation peaks just as students most need a break … One mother kept quiet on Facebook when her son was admitted early to his No. 1 school, in an effort to be considerate … She later learned that because she hadn’t trumpeted the news, other parents assumed her son had been rejected. Many students try not to reveal their No. 1 choice. Asking teens their dream school is like making them announce that they have a secret, unrequited crush … After all the applications are in, counselor Jane Shropshire advises students to tune out the noise from peers and adults and immerse themselves in arts, sports, academic or community activities they enjoy.”

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The Happiness Effect & Social Media for Students

From a review of The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas, in The Wall Street Journal: “The real downside of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk … is constant cheeriness. Young people learn that any hint of unhappiness or failure may not be posted; it can haunt their futures and damage their ‘brands.’ This imperative then creates a vicious circle.” Freitas writes: “Because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.”

“Young people feel that they have to be online almost all the time, but they cannot share their real selves there, a situation that produces even greater unhappiness. ‘For better or worse, students are becoming masters of appearing happy, at significant cost,’ she says. The ‘happiness effect’ isn’t as lurid a woe as teens sending racy pictures, but it is an important phenomenon to understand and one that parents, teachers and college administrators need to address.”

“College admissions officers and future employers can look back in time and see posts complaining about a difficult boss or admitting loneliness … Yet avoiding social media is almost impossible; professors, for instance, create discussion groups on Facebook. So the beast must be mollified and a ‘personal brand’ maintained: that of a studious yet social person who does the right activities and holds the right opinions. ‘Many students have begun to see what they post (on Facebook, especially) as a chore—a homework assignment to build a happy facade,’ Ms. Freitas reports.”

“Her most intriguing suggestion—that schools and employers declare it unethical to consult applicants’ social-media accounts—would be a game-changer. It would also probably be unworkable.”

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Have No Fear of Freshman Year!

The New York Times: “Regardless of their credentials, many freshmen doubt that they have the necessary brainpower or social adeptness to succeed in college … If they flunk an exam, or a professor doesn’t call on them, their fears about whether they belong may well be confirmed. The cycle of doubt becomes self-reinforcing, and students are more likely to drop out … The good news is that this dismal script can be rewritten. Several recent research projects show that, with the right nudge, students can acquire ways of thinking that helps them thrive.”

“In a large-scale experiment at an unnamed school … incoming freshmen read upperclassmen’s accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life. The accounts explained that, while the upperclassmen initially felt snubbed by their classmates and intimidated by their professors, their lives started turning around when they reached out to their instructors and began to make friends.”

“Other freshmen were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work … All students had ‘an initial doubt about whether they would fit in,’ the researchers point out. What changed in the experiment was that, as freshmen, the participants were more likely to be drawn into campus life, seek out academic help and live on campus.”

“Undergraduates will be more engaged and fewer will drop out if universities adopt this two-pronged approach, giving students essential psychological tools and making their success an institutional priority.”

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College Application Process: 5 Lessons Learned

The Washington Post: “Katie Miller recently graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., and is very relieved to be finished with the painful process of applying to colleges.” Here are some of the lessons she learned along the way:

“1. Be prepared for disappointment. Nothing truly readies you for the feeling of defeat that comes with opening a letter of denial.”

“2. Accept that aspects of this arduous process will simply be inexplicable … While some websites claim they can tell students which elements of the application different schools value, maybe it depends on factors as arbitrary as who sits down to read the essay.”

“3. Even when you think you have done everything right, you’ve probably gotten something wrong … Overlooking wrongly labeled classes and failing to double-check them with my counselor put me at a disadvantage … You will never get full disclosure from a university admissions office, but by calling and asking why I was denied, I learned that my mistakes led the office of undergraduate admissions to believe that I had dropped AP and honors-level courses.”

“4. There is a time and place for modesty and the college application process is not it … Especially today, as colleges’ standards continue to raise, it’s vital to take advantage of all accomplishments, because there are probably a thousand other kids with the same ones.”

“5. Give serious consideration to all the schools on your list, because your final choice may surprise you … I have realized that the college experience has less to do with the school name, location and reputation, and more to do with what you accomplish there.”

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Summertime Advice: Preparing To Leave The Nest

The Washington Post: “Here are a few tips on how to slow down the emotional merry-go-round” of the summer before your child leaves for college: “Try to schedule some fun activities that the whole family can enjoy … one-on-one time with your child doing something they love … Allow your children plenty of time to be with friends … They may not want to share their fears with you, but will probably be comfortable commiserating with their compatriots who are starting off on their own adventures.”

“Shop till you drop — together … one of the best bonding experiences of the summer will be shopping with your child for the dorm. Listen to your children and take in their preferences, without censure … Sit down with your children and plan the move-in day together so everyone knows what to expect. Cover every detail, including your exit time.”

“When that long awaited and dreaded day finally arrives on your calendar, you’ll want to be on your A-game — prepared, rested and ready to go with the flow. Stay organized, have snacks and bring tissues. Resolve to hold it together so you can be there for your kid. One more tip: Leave the dorm-room door open when unpacking so he can meet his neighbors.”

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