The college years are a time of transition for parents and students. This challenging period can be both exciting and stressful. What can you expect a student to encounter during these challenging years?

First Year

Family moving student in to Mesa Court

For a first year student, homesickness is sometimes an issue. The early part of each academic year is packed with activities and your student may need to take advantage of them in order to become connected – a member of their new community. Also, a student may be considering working part time along with his/her academic responsibilities and pacing of work-study-play may become difficult. Further, along with this adjustment may come periods of feeling overwhelmed when work is piling up, grades aren’t what s/he expected or s/he is feeling unable to cope. In this situation, the student may need a reassuring adult voice. Parents can affirm and encourage their student in his/her attempts to handle new challenges and, at the same time, be available for support when needed.

Second Year

For a second year student, choosing a major can be a primary concern. Choosing a major not only means choosing a particular course of study but it can also mean assuming an identity on campus and possibly, a future career. It is sometimes difficult for a student to know what he/she wants to do or what her/his real skills and interests are. At the same time, there is pressure from many sources to decide now. You can help by providing a listening ear and encouraging your student to talk to professors, the Career Center, and other students who have already decided on an academic major. Of course, the Counseling Center staff is available to talk with students about their mixed feelings regarding choosing a major, their future career, dealing with academic stress, and helping them strengthen their social support systems.

Third Year

For third year students, the decision on whether to study abroad is often a consideration. Studying in a foreign country for an academic quarter/year can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. It often provides the opportunity to enlarge a student’s vision of the world and themselves. However, it also means being separated from family and friends for an extended period of time. During the time abroad, family can help by offering tangible connections to the life the student left behind such as letters, emails, care packages and phone calls. Another possibility is that a third year student may often be considering application to graduate/professional school, preparing to take entrance exams (e.g. MCAT, GMAT, GRE) and pursuing various research opportunities. Taking upper division courses in her/his academic major can also be challenging. These possibilities provide opportunities for family to offer support and encouragement.

Fourth or Fifth Year

Graduating Students at the 2014 Commencement Ceremony

Seniors are beginning to consider life after college. Many are applying for graduate/professional school admission and awaiting word about their acceptance. Others are considering various job/career options. Some students are unsure of what direction is best for them, considering delaying graduate school, working or traveling for a while. Again, you can be helpful by offering a listening and supportive ear. Also, the Career Center offers multiple workshops, career fairs, and private consultations to students around these kinds of major decisions. The Counseling Center can also be helpful in assisting students through these very common developmental challenges, providing support and resource information.

For more information, visit the UC Irvine Career Center website:

Reprinted with permission from Georgetown University (Counseling and Psychiatric Services) and University of Colorado, Boulder (Counseling and Psychological Services) for formatting and content ideas.