Written By: Melanie Eckford-Prossor
’79, MA ’82, PhD ’88, Parent ’14

UCLA is the most-applied to university in the nation, and by no means was your student chosen to be a Bruin by mistake.  But what happens when your student isn’t totally enamored with their UCLA experience? UCLA mother and Bruin alum, Melanie Eckford-Prossor, shares her daughter’s less-than-seamless adjustment to the college environment and provides tips to help you and your Bruin find where they fit.

Note: this archive article was originally published in the November 2013 Issue of Bruinlink.

This is my daughter’s senior year at UCLA.  Recently, she blithely told me,  “I love UCLA!”  You might wonder why this would be worth mentioning since, if you are reading this newsletter and have attended family orientation and so on, you will undoubtedly have heard these things from everyone.  Indeed, you probably expect to hear this from your Bruin. And, let me confess, I too am a Bruin, and I say the same thing.

But this joy of being at UCLA was not always my daughter’s position.  We came off a very rocky orientation before the start of her first year. Mid-August I picked her up, eager to hear what she thought. She snarled at me on the way to the car, threw her stuff in the back, fastened her seat belt and announced, “I have made the worst mistake of my life!  I should not be going to UCLA.”  As you can imagine, it was not a great drive home.  I alternated between panic and pabulum—offering utterly ridiculous “advice” while trying to figure out how serious it all was.

Things did not get markedly better by Thanksgiving.  Alienation from UCLA, her family, and a terrifying propensity to sleep through classes did make me panic.  (And let me confess one more thing:  I am a professor. I know how important it is for first years to be in class—it helps them bond with the school and identify with it).  So what did she do, and what did I do?  How did we go from near disaster to someone who loves the school, her major, and who is connected in many ways to student and community organizations? What happens if the “rah rah UCLA” attitude backfires?

Recognize you are not alone:  Probably my first piece of advice is “You are not alone.”  Yours is not the first—nor the last—new Bruin to have a rocky first quarter (and first two quarters, to be more accurate).  But it is not easy to say this aloud.

Find an “ear” for you and then listen to your Bruin:  I would encourage finding a safe person to say, in all the parental hub-bub of “Oh, Marco is doing so well at UCLA,” a person to say, instead, “You know, I’m worried about Marco, for this reason and that.”  If you have a person to whom you can express your fears, you are less likely to slop them onto your first-year, and that is very important.  I think as worried we as parents might be, our Bruin is even more worried.  Everyone is happy and having fun and fitting in—except this one Bruin.  If you can purge yourself of your anxiety, then you can listen.  And listen I did to her.  A lot.  I fought most of my desires to solve problems, and I tried (not always successfully) to listen from the “long view” (today’s problem might easily be forgotten by tomorrow).

Try to avoid doing something embarrassing:  Yes.  In some utterly misguided moment, I actually called her RA to find out where she was.  In hindsight, running or reading or rearranging my sock drawer–doing virtually anything other than this–would have been a better idea.  I’m not proud of this at all, but it does give her something to rib me about, and it is a useful caution.   I let my anxiety get the best of me, and I lost sight of one of the key elements about going to college:  the student—and the parent—need to trust the student’s ability to take care of him or herself.

Find information and resources:  Interestingly enough, one of the resources I turned to was the Parent and Family BruinLink.  I read articles voraciously, and while none directly addressed her issues, I did glean some useful advice.  I also read books, talked with people, and so on. And I surfed the UCLA website.  So, I would discover information about CAPS, and then, rather than telling my daughter, “Hey, you could do X and Y at CAPS,” I would instead try something like, “You know, I bet there are people on campus who could help you with X. Why don’t you try to find them?”  The more she could connect with the campus and the endless resources, the more integrated she might become.  And the more I backed off, the better.

That said, one resource I did tell her about was a particular club.  She joined the club and attended the weekly meetings, which she liked, particularly as it allowed her to meet 4th years rather than freshmen. Talking with 4th years gave her perspective, and it offered her the chance to talk to people who, in general, have a much clearer sense of what they’re doing than 1st years.  From my perspective, once she joined this club, I occasionally saw signs of the person who applied to UCLA.  There was a tiny glimmer of light.

Encourage academic connection:  For the first time in most of our students’ lives, they now have the opportunity to attend office hours.  For my daughter, this was very difficult:  she was not sure how welcome she would be or what she should ask.  But one of the reasons our children are at UCLA is for the academics.  UCLA has a world-class faculty, and TAs are excellent graduate students who are training to be world-class faculty elsewhere.  Thinking about their courses and engaging the ideas in a course via faculty helps students see the larger picture.

Trust the admission process:  Even if at some point in those rocky quarters you, too, begin to doubt the wisdom of your Bruin’s choice, trust the admissions officers. They really do know what they’re doing, and they accept your student based not only on grades, but also on “fit.”  Rarely do they get it wrong.

Take the long view: Finally, recognize that this is a four-year process at a massive, highly competitive school.  As easy as it is to get lost in the most recent miserable phone call—or, perhaps more worrying, no phone call for weeks on end—try to take the long view, for both of you.   By spring quarter of my daughter’s first year, things began changing for the better.  Yesterday, I saw my daughter, and we discussed UCLA.  She critiqued UCLA’s position on the new hotel, on diversity, and so on, but she also discussed its many excellent qualities, especially her professors.  Most importantly, she said, “It’s been a great school for me.”   And as simple as that sentence sounds, I knew just how far we have travelled in four years.