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As a student, you may find that your interests and priorities are shifting and that your commitment to school is changing the dynamics in your relationships. Taking time to think about where you want to focus your energy can help you achieve a healthy balance and communicate effectively with your loved ones.

Share Your Growth

As you advance in school, you’re learning new things and considering different perspectives. Your ideas about the world, and how you fit into it, may be changing. You may also be exploring how you’ll apply your knowledge and contribute to your community.

By sharing your academic experiences with your family and friends, you’ll help them feel included in your life. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn how what you’re studying is viewed through their eyes, and gather their perspectives and knowledge.

Dr. Susan Albers Bowling, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wooster branch Women’s Health Center, says, “Parents and friends often use their own experience to [relate to] you. Comparing and contrasting experiences can make for a rich discussion.”

Claire H., a sophomore at Montgomery College in Maryland, says, “I enjoy it when my kids talk about what they’re doing in school. I also like telling them about my experiences!”

Some students find it challenging to talk about their schoolwork, or may be tempted to “lecture” their loved ones on what they’re learning. When you’re speaking, pay attention to the quantity and tone of what you’re sharing. For example:

Are you presenting a lot of facts and figures? This might be difficult for other people to relate to. As Claire suggests, “Too many details may make it boring for those whose interests lie elsewhere.”

Are you trying to convince people of something? Be open to conflicting perceptions and questions.

Are you acting like your friends and family can’t possibly know anything about the topic? They’ll feel patronized and tune you out.

It’s important to strive for an equal exchange of information. Remember to ask questions and truly be open to hearing others’ ideas.

Tips on including your family and friends in your academic life

  • Bring your family and friends to school. If you’re studying online, show them around your virtual classrooms! If your loved ones can visually understand your school environment, it will be easier for them to relate to your experiences. 
  • Take it slow. Share your academic experiences a little bit at a time to avoid creating an overwhelming situation. 
  • Explain what you hope to accomplish with your education. This will help to put the sacrifi ces you’re all making into a context and may reduce resentment about changes in your lives. Be clear about how your studies will impact your future.

Learning Isn’t Only About Books

Margaret K., a sophomore at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, says, “You don’t just learn in school. You can learn something anywhere and from anyone.” There are lots of ways to acquire knowledge aside from books and college courses.

Shyniece F., a third-year student and residential assistant at the College of Wooster in Ohio, notes, “Some students who are more educated than their families and friends might shy away from expressing what they’ve learned. I use it as an opportunity to share.”

Be sensitive to your loved ones’ backgrounds when explaining things that may be unfamiliar to them. Instead of using academic jargon or acronyms, explain how what you’re studying can be applied to practical situations. If they have not gone on to receive higher education, your experiences may seem intimidating and unfamiliar.

Without realizing it, some students may come off as condescending. There’s a difference between breaking things down into common language and dumbing things down, and this is mainly about attitude. Assume your family and friends will be able to understand what you’re talking about, and take responsibility for speaking with them in a way that makes this possible.

Larissa B., a student at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, suggests, “Base how much you say, and how simple the terms are, on their facial expressions and how interested they seem.”

Ask for people’s opinions and encourage them to ask questions. Find out how your experiences in school relate to times when they’ve learned new things. You may be surprised how much good advice can be provided by people who may not have a particular degree but have been dedicated students of life.

Reevaluating Relationships

There may be times when you find yourself in a relationship that no longer meets your needs intellectually or emotionally.

Have you ever had a conversation with an old friend only to realize you no longer have anything in common? Margaret says, “Part of the higher learning experience is getting the chance to evaluate your life from a new perspective. Sometimes [relationships] don’t fit exactly as they did before.”

In this situation you are faced with a decision: continue putting effort into the relationship or let it go. How do you know when a friendship is past its expiration date? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does my friend support my decisions, dreams, and/or values?
  • Is my friend flexible and understanding of the sacrifices I must make for my education?
  • Can I trust my friend with my insecurities and vulnerabilities?
  • Do I feel energized and refreshed after spending time with my friend?
  • Am I supportive of my friend and contributing to his or her life?
  • Can we engage in constructive dialogue when conflicts occur?

If your answer to many of these questions is “no,” it may be time to have a conversation. Claire shares, “Maybe the friend is feeling the same way. You may be growing apart.”

Express your concerns and encourage your friend to share his or her perspective as well. Pay attention to how you feel as you’re talking, and what your gut is telling you about your interest and energy levels to maintain the connection.

“Both parties have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make the relationship work, or it won’t,” says Allyson E., a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

While you may no longer have space for certain relationships in your life, it’s important to maintain the ones that help you to thrive and grow as a person. Sharing your experiences, and learning from your friends and family members’ perspectives, can lead to rich and enlightening conversations and this can only enhance your academic life.

Tips on having a constructive conversation

  • Find a private and comfortable setting in which to speak. 
  • Let your friend or family member know how much you care for him or her, and that you value your relationship. 
  • Discuss your academic program and commitments, and be clear about the time they require. 
  • Express your concerns about how your priorities mesh with those of your friend or family member. 
  • Ask your friend or family member to describe his or her concerns about your academic life and its impact. 
  • Make sure to listen carefully without interrupting. 
  • Avoid being on the defensive and trying to “prove a point” or “be correct.” 
  • Discuss what actions each person can take to maintain the relationship.
  • Agree to disagree if necessary. You won’t always be able to reach agreement about what to do. 
  • If you feel the relationship is no longer a positive in your life, it’s okay to step away from it. Be kind but clear in communicating this to your friend or family member.

Take Action!

  • Share your academic experiences and goals with family and friends.
  • Talk about what you’re learning and ask your loved ones for their perspectives.
  • Avoid academic jargon and acronyms, but resist the urge to oversimplify ideas.
  • Education doesn’t just happen in a classroom. Value what your friends and family members have learned through life experience.
  • Consider how your education is affecting your views and goals.
  • If you and a friend are growing apart, have an honest conversation.

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Get help or find out more
The following resources offer information about higher education and relationship dynamics.

Cushman, Kathleen. (2006). First in the family: Your college years. Advice about college from first-generation students. Next Generation Press, Rhode Island.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Counseling Center, Committed Relationships and School

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Counseling Center, First-Generation College Students

Loveisrespect.org, College: The Balancing Act