LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 13, 2021) — The holiday season is upon us, bringing changes in usual routines and habits. For many, the change is welcome. After the stress of finals has passed, going home can be a special time for friends, family and fun traditions.
While it can be a magical time, going home after being away at college can present a new set of challenges. From difficult conversations to setting new boundaries, Nancy Stephens, head of New Student and Family Programs, housed in the Office for Student Success, has some advice on how to prepare to return home this holiday season and make sure that once you arrive, it remains the happiest time of the year.
UKNow: How would you recommend students prepare to return home for the long Winter Break?
Stephens: Even in the chaos of preparing for finals and making plans to return home, take a little time to think about your expectations for the break.
- Who do you want to spend time with?
- What do you need to get done?
- What can you do to set yourself up for success in the spring semester?
- What expectations do others have of you? If you’re not sure, ask in advance rather than risk the potential of future conflict from unspoken expectations that don’t get met because you’re not a mindreader. Share your hopes for the break with your loved ones.
UKNow: Students find a newfound sense of freedom while away at college; however, when they return home for break, parents often expect their student to resort back to rules that were in place while living at home in high school. How can students and families get on the same page about ground rules while being home?
Stephens: A discussion about house rules is an important part of the expectations discussion before break, particularly if you’re a first-year student and haven’t been home much during the fall semester. You may be used to coming and going whenever you please while at UK, but you should recognize that doing the same back at home can be disruptive to other family members. Many family members are excited to spoil their Wildcats when they’re back at home, but contributing to household chores can go a long way in demonstrating the maturity that comes with increased independence. Respect the needs of those you’re sharing space with, and try to give grace as you both adjust to being home together; hopefully they’ll do the same for you.
UKNow: When returning home, students are bombarded with the question, “so, how’s school?” How can students answer this question, especially if things aren’t going as great as they hoped?
Stephens: Every well-meaning family member wants to know what you’re studying, what you hope to do after UK and how you’re liking school. The answers to those questions will depend on how things are going and who you’re talking to. Family members who are helping finance your education need an honest assessment of how you’re doing in order to best support you, but the neighbor you bumped into may not need the details.
Chat with your family about your goals for the spring semester and ask for their support in holding you accountable as you work to achieve them. If there are areas of improvement you’d like to focus on, share some initial steps you plan to take when you get back to UK in January. Those steps might include meeting with an integrated success coach, talking to your advisor or making an appointment with the Stuckert Career Center and/or Counseling Center. The Career Center and Counseling Center have sections on their websites dedicated to information for families, so you may want to encourage your loved ones to check those out.
UKNow: For many students, values shift while away at college as they discover themselves. How can students approach conversations around these shifts in values with loved ones?
Stephens: One of the hallmarks of the college experience is being exposed to new ways of thinking and different people who influence your worldview. Emerging adulthood is a time to refine your opinions based on new experiences and information, but if those new opinions diverge from those of your family, there is potential for conflict. You know your family best and can determine whether your approach should rely on direct communication or total avoidance of hot-button issues that may trigger an argument.
UKNow: What are good techniques for students to use to avoid conflict with family members when discussing difficult topics related to school? For example, a major change or the decision to drop a class.
Stephens: Some students may be dreading a difficult conversation with their family about issues like changing a major, finances or a bad grade in a fall class. For these conversations, choose the right time to talk when stress levels are lower and people aren’t hurrying off to the next holiday activity. Come prepared with all the relevant information and anticipate what questions you might be asked.
- In the case of a major change, share your reasoning and what steps you’ve taken (talking to an advisor and/or professor, reviewing majors online, checking myUK GPS to see what impact it will have on your graduation date, etc.).
- For a financial conversation, you might share what UK resources you have used or will use, including MoneyCATS, iGrad, Student Employment and your financial aid counselor.
- If you need to talk about a low grade in one or more of your fall classes, talk honestly about what issues you had, what you did to address them, and what you can do in the future. Take responsibility for the things you can control, including your study time, your use of UK resources, and the self-knowledge you gained from the experience.
For many of our students, home is a supportive place full of people who want nothing but the best for you. However, that may not be the case for all of our students, so please use the UK resources at your disposal if home is not always an easy place to be for whatever reason. The same advice is true if you are unable to go home over the break. The UK Counseling Center is here to support you, and their Let’s Talk program is particularly convenient with options both in person and online. Our many first-generation students may find people at home who want to support them but do not always know how, especially if they do not understand the challenges that come with being a college student. First-Generation Student Services offers resources and support for both first-generation students and their families.
If your family would benefit from receiving information from UK about how to best support you and your collegiate success, encourage them to join the UK Parent and Family Association if they haven’t already. It’s free to join, and members receive the Cat Chat email newsletter two to three times a month during the school year so they can stay informed about campus happenings.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.