The founder of the Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook Page, Traci Holmes Libby, answers some of the top questions parents have about life at Cal Poly.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m concerned about my student’s roommate. What should I do?
A big part of college is learning how to live with others who have different backgrounds and lifestyles than yourself, so if this is a matter of lifestyle, that’s something that your student should take up directly with their roommate (it’s not something that you, the parent, will have any role in resolving.) If your student is also concerned and is unable to resolve the issue by speaking directly with the roommate, they can ask their resident advisor (RA) for guidance or mediation, or can escalate further to the CSD (“head RA” of their housing area). If your student is concerned about the mental health of their roommate and feels that the roommate is a danger to themselves or others, they should go straight to the CSD (or call 911 if necessary), notifying the RA where feasible.
How should I stay in contact with my child? How often should I call?
First, don’t expect to hear anything from your student during WOW. They’re going to be super busy with their group from morning until late at night. During the rest of the year, in my experience, it works best to accommodate your student’s busy schedule. Our student would occasionally call or facetime when walking to classes, so much of our communication was unscheduled. We did communicate on a weekly basis by phone or facetime, but it was important to be flexible as sometimes group projects or other activities would take priority. Though you may not hear from your student as often as you have in the past, your student still counts on you as a major source of support and encouragement, even if they may not verbalize it. If you speak with your student, and they spend most of their time venting about roommates or classes, that’s ok. Listen, support, encourage, and know that you’re helping your student relieve some stress by allowing them to share information that they might not feel comfortable to share with their new peers. Do keep an ear out for true symptoms of anxiety and depression, but don’t be too phased by the occasional vent session.
When should I visit my student?
There’s no perfect answer, so do what works best for your family’s situation and finances. Let your student look at their syllabi and tell you which dates may work best for them.
My student is struggling with anxiety. What resources are available?
Cal Poly’s Health and Wellness Center has excellent counselors and also offers a very good recurring group support session called the Anxiety Toolbox which is available by counselor referral. If your student is anxious or feeling defeated, even a single session with one of the campus counselors can make a big difference in helping them develop strategies to manage their anxiety. Encourage them to make an appointment if they’re willing The Wellness center is really set up more for short term and crisis counseling than ongoing support, so if ongoing support is needed it would be best to find a private local counselor. There’s a therapist finder tool in Psychology Today that is helpful for finding outside counseling support or a detailed list of parent recommendations on the Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page.
What do I do if my student starts to struggle academically in college?
Students will find that the quarter system moves very quickly and that classes at Cal Poly are much harder than at high school. Almost everyone at Cal Poly was a 4.0+ grade point average in high school, so that’s the new “average”. It’s reasonable to expect that your student’s GPA at Cal Poly will be at least a full point lower than their high school GPA in my experience. If your student is struggling academically, encourage them to use all of their resources: professor office hours, free and paid tutoring, supplemental workshops and study sessions. They should sample all of the options and stick with the ones that work best for them with any given professor and class. I would also suggest having them take a look at the informal ratings sites: calpolyratings.com and polyratings.com to look for general tips from other students who have previously taken the same classes. (Ignore the snarky comments and look for useful specifics.)
What are the options for housing after my child’s freshman year? When should they start looking?
Second year students will have the option to continue living on-campus, in the Poly Canyon Village (PCV) or Cerro Vista apartments, or they can find off campus housing in an apartment complex such as Valencia or Mustang Village apartments, or they can rent a private house. Traditionally, students have placed nonrefundable deposits up for on-campus housing in early March, or have begun to look for off-campus housing when they return from winter break (January / early February). With that timing, it works best for students to begin thinking about roommate possibilities in November or December.
What are the top three items you recommend students living in dorms or on campus apartments have?
A good fan – San Luis Obispo gets very warm in October/ November, sometimes exceeding 100 degrees for a few days. A powerstrip with a long cord (8-10’) to allow easy plug in of multiple devices, even in the top bed. And three, a long (25-50’) ethernet cable, to enable them to plug in to the campus internet if the wifi network goes down. Students with Macbooks may need an ethernet adapter.
What is the best advice you received as a parent of college students?
The best advice I received was to expect that you may hear some surprising things from your student when you chat with them during the year, about dorm living, life on campus, roommates, etc., and that sometimes we as parents are just a safe place to vent.When you hear information that makes you cringe a little (or a lot), resist the urge to lecture and intercede, and instead ask your student what they think about those things and how they plan to address them.If you lecture, your student isn’t going to want to share that information with you in the future. Transition from the role of manager to the role of trusted advisor. You’ve raised a talented young adult, now let them show you how much they’ve learned along the way. You’ll be pleasantly amazed.