My sister was the first in my family to go to college, and my Dad and I didn’t know how to support her. We rarely visited her on campus (I am not sure we ever did her first year!), and we didn’t attend the homecoming football game where she was recognized as a campus leader (among a handful chosen out of more than 20,000 students).

When it was my turn to go to college, my sister and Dad made sure that I had the support I needed to be a successful college student. They were there for my triumphs, and they saw me through the challenges.

Freedom to explore.

College is a time of exploration for students, which may mean changing their field of study once, twice … maybe three times, but it is vital for success that students find a field that they are excited about. My first class as a biology major proved to be a challenge, but I wanted to be a marine biologist. When I saw my first “F” on my final grades, I had to reconsider.

My Dad said, “Don’t worry, mija, you will figure it out.”

My sister recommended that I use the career services available on campus to take an interest inventory to see what fields suited my personality. I discovered that although I liked learning science I wasn’t good at it, but I was good at helping people. After a semester or two as a social work major I found my passion in history education. My GPA went from a 2.45 to a 3.6 because I finally had a goal!

Provide balance.

Finding balance between classes, studying, being involved, working, and family isn’t easy. The first few days of class may seem easy – students get their syllabi, enter tests and assignments into their calendar (hopefully!), and start looking into what organizations are interesting.

Soon, though, studying becomes a challenge because there isn’t a quiet place to study at home, too many hours are spent working, and there isn’t enough time to get involved on campus.

Time and space are necessary for full concentration, so home may not be the best study environment. Studying in my room or at the kitchen table didn’t work for me because I was distracted by other things. Instead, I went to campus, the local library, or a coffee shop to focus on my studies.

I also had to figure out how many hours of work and campus involvement was right for me. Participating in Student Life events and working as a student employee helps students feel like they belong on campus, which leads to doing better in classes. It’s also a great way to make new friends!

Celebrate successes – not only the big ones.

Getting a good grade on an assignment, helping plan a campus event, or receiving a scholarship are all milestones that should be celebrated.

Although my Dad and I didn’t make it to all of my sister’s celebrations in the beginning, we both learned that being there to say “Congratulations,” or attending campus events made a difference in her confidence (and, later, my confidence) that college was the right decision.

What advice do you have about supporting someone through college? Let us know in the comments below.

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