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The W-Curve Model: Understanding a new college student's experience

Mayo Clinic News Network, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

The W-Curve Model was first proposed in 1963 to explain adjustment to culture shock. Starting college is a culture shock for many young people. It is often the first time students are away from home for an extended period.

Freshman year is known for new experiences, but it also presents various challenges. Each new college student's experience is unique. Parents should be aware of the predictable adjustment pattern to help students navigate difficult times.

The five stages of the W-Curve Model explain students' level of comfort, satisfaction and effectiveness during each stage:

1. Honeymoon: The excitement stage

Often starting before students arrive at college, the honeymoon stage is full of excitement, stimulation and curiosity. There's increased enthusiasm to meet new people, and many cultural differences are intriguing.

Students desire independence and tend to lack homesickness during the first few days or weeks of college. New students are bombarded with events and activities, keeping the excitement level high.


2. Culture Shock: Reality sets in

At this stage, students may start to compare their expectations of college with reality. The differences that felt new and exciting start to feel isolating and overwhelming.

Students may feel lost and confused, noticing that the excitement of living on their own has worn off. Often, students will compare their experiences to others, finding that academic demands are more complex than anticipated.

Feeling homesick may lead students to wish to return home more often.


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