Information for Parents of New Students from the Office of Student Affairs
Becoming part of the Amherst College community is an exciting time for students! It is an opportunity for them to deepen existing interests, discover new interests, and challenge themselves in many ways. It is a period of remarkable change and growth, as students discover who they want to be and what role they want to play in the world.
Not everything will be easy, not every test will be aced, and not every roommate will be a lifelong best friend. As your student is challenged to think, write, and work in new ways, they will discover talents beyond what they imagined, but they also will confront moments of self doubt.
As a parent or family memember of a college student, you can help your student transition to being a responsible adult by letting them negotiate conflict and advocate for themself. Refrain from picking up the phone and talking with us about their exam conflicts, enrollment in courses, or housing situations. Instead, empower your student by encouraging them to contact the appropriate office.
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by parents and family members of new students:
Q: Is my student allowed to bring a car to Amherst College?
A: No. First-Years are not allowed to bring a car to campus. Amherst College pays the local public bus system (known as the PVTA) so that our students are allowed to ride the bus simply by showing their ID card. The bus provides transportation between the Five Colleges, to area shopping centers, and even to area trailheads for hiking.
Q: How often should I call my student at college?
A: Resist the urge to call frequently. Constantly checking in erodes a student's confidence in their ability to make their own decisions and handle their problems. A phone conversation every week or two will allow you to show your student that you support them, while also allowing them to learn independence and self-advocacy.
Q: What should I do if my student experiences academic difficulty?
A: Advise your student to go to their professors’ office hours, to talk with their academic advisor, and to take advantage of the Moss Quantitative Center and the Writing Center. They also should make an appointment to come talk to their class dean, so that your student can talk through strategies for academic success and be connected with resources and support.
Q: My student reports being depressed? What can I do to help them?
A: Advise your student to immediately make an appointment to see their class dean, or someone in the Counseling Center. If your student seems particularly distressed, they should call the Counseling Center, which has someone available at any hour of the day or night via phone at 413-542-2354.
Q: I’m worried that my student is feeling extremely lonely. What should I do to help them?
A: When students first arrive, they tend to cling to a small group of new friends that they may or may not remain close to over the coming weeks or months. As this initial friend group melts away, many students can feel lonely, isolated, or out of place. Assure your student that this is a normal process, and help them think of strategies to reach out to more people in their classes, dorms, or student organizations. Also encourage them to speak with older students who have already gone through such experiences. The best place for them to start is with their Resident Coordinator in their dorms. You also can encourage your student’s siblings, relatives, and friends from home to write them letters (students seem to appreciate old-fashioned letters more than emails).
Q: My student reports a high fever or another illness such as mono. What can I do to make certain that they will be cared for?
A: Advise your student to contact Health Services for an evaluation. They also should inform their professors and academic advisors, and get in contact with their class dean to discuss what academic support can be offered. Roommates and friends can be great sources of support. While your student is ill, it can be helpful for you to check in with them regularly by phone to make certain that they are taking proper care of themselves.
Q: My student might have suffered a concussion. What should I do to help them?
A: Advise them to immediately be in touch with one of the athletic trainers and/or with Health Services for an evaluation. They also should let their professors and advisor know about their injury, and make an appointment to see their class dean for academic and medical support. Accessibility Services is also able to offer temporary accommodations (extended testing time, etc.) when needed for a physical injury.
Q: If I am worried about my student, should I come to campus to support them?
A: No, it usually is not helpful to travel to the College, as this discourages independence. Your presence, moreover, can distract your student from maintaining a daily schedule that allows them to keep up with their academics. Feel free to email the Office of Student Affairs with any concerns you might have about your student, and we can follow up by supporting them.
Q: Can I find out my student’s grades or other details about what is going on in their life?
A: Federal Law prohibits us from disclosing information to you about grades, courses, disciplinary actions, or other matters about which you will naturally be very concerned. The intent of FERPA is to make conversations about these issues become family decisions and not institutional ones. Learn more about FERPA and its role in shaping communications between you and the college. The best way to get information from your student is to ask them.
Q: I don’t know what my student will do with a Liberal Arts degree. Should I encourage my student to pick a useful major?
A: We offer no pre-professional majors, and no major is inherently more useful than any other. The main skills your student will develop are the ability to write well, approach problems from creative angles, think critically and deeply, and analyze large amounts of information and data. Every major, when combined with other parts of the curriculum, provides these foundations. Encourage your student to seek out courses across the curriculum that are small and that prepare them to take advantage of research opportunities. They also should seek a good balance between courses that play to their strengths and those that offer new challenges. Encourage your student to pursue their interests. Independent exploration and personal commitment to a student's major contributes to lifelong happiness and success in later careers. Most students become stressed out and anxious when family members pressure them about their potential major or ask them what they plan to do with a particular major. Your student should use their first year at Amherst College as a time to lay foundations for potential majors, while exploring the curriculum and discovering new interests.
Q: We are from a warm climate, but I hear New England winters are very cold. What winter clothes should my student bring?
A: If you live in a warm climate, resist the temptation to stock up on winter clothes before sending your student off to college. Most winter clothes available for purchase in warm climates are not made for the colder conditions of Massachusetts. Instead of buying winter clothes in advance, we recommend that students wait until mid-autumn and then seek out advice from peers and staff at Amherst College about what winter clothes to buy.
Q: I am afraid that my student cannot afford winter clothes. What should I do?
A: Amherst College students with high levels of financial need sometimes receive a financial aid refund check at the beginning of the year to help them purchase books and cover miscellaneous expenses. Encourage your student to save part of this check until late October or November so that they can afford to buy a warm winter coat, scarf, gloves, and hat. They can find these in local stores, second-hand shops, or online.
Q: I hear that most students at Amherst College are well off financially, but we are an economically modest household. Will my student have difficulty fitting in? Will my student be excluded from any activities?
A: Economically, there is no “typical” Amherst student. We attract the best and the brightest from all economic backgrounds, and the majority of our students receive financial aid, with an average financial aid package of almost $49,000. Additionally, every extra-curricular activity is structured in a manner that allows all students to participate equally no matter their economic background. We recommend that your student embrace their economic background as part of what makes them who they are. Encourage your student to consider how their background offers them important insights during classroom discussions, in their social interactions, and in their engagement with the world. We hope your student will embrace their distinctive perspective to find their place within the Amherst community and to help shape the character of our shared community.
Q: My student was closed out of a course. Is this a widespread problem, and will it impact my student’s opportunity to complete their major?
A: Few courses are affected by over-enrollment, and we have never had a single case in which a student was unable to complete a major as a result of being closed out of a particular course. However, if your student does find themself closed out of a course required for their major, tell them to speak with the professor of the course or with the department chair about receiving priority the next time the course is offered. Finally, the courses that are in most demand vary from year to year. If your student is hearing a lot about an upcoming course from friends or teammates, it is likely that it could will be over-enrolled, and your student should look into the hundreds of other courses offered each semester.
Q: Are there any online resources where parents and family members can go to learn from other parents or family members who are going through similar experiences?
A: There are a number of online forums. One of the best is collegeparentcentral.com. A wealth of information is available by consulting the links on the Amherst College website.