Navigating the Challenges of Freshman Year… Long Distance
Written By Kip Gregory
What do you when your student’s first quarter freshman year has barely begun, things quickly go sideways, and you live three time zones — and a five-hour plane ride — away?
That challenge confronted our family when only a few weeks into fall quarter, our son found himself enrolled in an especially difficult mix of courses, and unsure of what to do about it or where to turn. To make matters worse, within days of arriving he’d broken his wrist in a skateboarding accident on his way to class, and now was stuck wearing a full-length cast until after Thanksgiving.
My wife and I wanted to help, but we had had minimal experience dealing with the university. We both grew up and went to school on the east coast. A local admitted students reception in DC, a trip to campus for Bruin Day, and move-in weekend were the sum total of our interaction with the school. Throw in our son being our oldest child (as in, we hadn’t done this before), and clearly we were in uncharted territory.
Fortunately, something stuck with me from that Bruin Day weekend the prior spring. While my son went off to spend the night in the dorms, I attended the Out-of-State Family dinner hosted by the school. Over the course of the evening, I chatted with parents of current students and listened as several speakers described UCLA’s Office of Parent & Family Programs as a central point for connecting you with people and departments around the university who could assist in dealing with a range of issues.
So when my son initially raised concern about his class load that fall, my first reaction was to call the folks at Parent & Family Programs. When I called I was relieved to get a live person on the line. The staff member listened attentively and identified a number of resources both on campus and off to help our son navigate the situation. Most importantly, she contacted a colleague in the College Academic Counseling, center and made an introduction for my son to meet with the individual —something they’ve since done on numerous occasions.
Both individuals were patient, reassuring, generous with their time, and very willing to help our son (and us) understand what his options were — guidance that was especially appreciated as geographically-distant parents.
Happily, through the assistance the staff provided and our son’s own research, he was able to get the tutoring and other support needed to finish the quarter and, ultimately, successfully complete his first year. Not without a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of anxiousness, but he got through it.
Just as important as what he learned in the classroom were the larger lessons he took away: the value of asking for help, of developing relationships with expert resources, and of advocating for yourself. Self-advocacy stands out in particular because it was coincidentally a theme speakers returned to repeatedly in the presentations we attended during the admissions process. The message: UCLA has an enormous depth of resources, but it’s a big place. Those who thrive here take the initiative to seek out what they need.
Perhaps that’s the price of attending a large, public university. Maybe at smaller schools, there’s more “anticipatory” assistance around difficult situations like the one we faced. I don’t know. I only know that when we raised our hand and asked for assistance we got it — from people who genuinely wanted to help. And though the parent in me would have loved to have had someone close enough to our son’s situation to foresee problems based on the classes he signed up for, that’s not how the world usually works. As painful as it was for him to learn the price of not asking for help, he is far better off now having lived through the experience.
So if your student is facing difficult challenges and you are uncertain where to turn, my advice is simple: reach out to the team in the Office of Parent & Family Programs. They may be a small group but they are incredibly committed, know where to go to get help, and will put you together with the right people.