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Helping Your Student Make a Successful Transition to College

July 07, 2010 By: Julie Manhan Category: College Tips

As students put high school behind them and begin to look ahead to college, they can sometimes think that they’ve got it all covered.  Of course, as a parent you know that there will be challenges ahead of them that they can’t quite foresee.  Their transition to college will present some of those challenges pretty quickly, but there are a few things you can do to help them meet those challenges.

Contrary to what many students believe, the transition to college is about more than just deciding what to pack and which classes to take.  Students can face significant adjustments, both socially and academically, as they move into unfamiliar surroundings and situations.  Here are a few tips about things you can do to help them have a more successful transition into college and beyond.

  1. Help them be prepared to be homesick for a while.  Talking about homesickness and what to expect may help your student cope better with the loneliness and fear they may experience.  Knowing that homesickness is temporary may even lessen the intensity of the feeling for your student.  If your student does get homesick, it is often helpful to assure them that what they are feeling is normal and encourage them to attend events where they can get to know more people.  Of course, if your child expresses worsening feelings of anxiety and/or depression, you should make every effort to get them to utilize the professional counseling services offered at their school.
  2. Place a limit on how often your student may call home.  I know this can be tough in our age of instant communication, but if you and your student can agree ahead of time on a limit of  how often he/she can call or text home, he/she may have a better chance of making a quicker adjustment to his/her new surroundings.  For some students, constant communication becomes a way to focus on everything “bad” that just happened making them increasingly miserable and increasing your level of worry.  Students who are able to limit their communication with parents tend to focus more on the good things that have happened and/or the truly difficult things they are facing when they do speak with them.  It’s also a good way to help your student learn to keep things in perspective.
  3. Be prepared with college tips.  During this time of adjustment to college and a new living situation, your student may need a little encouragement to get out of their comfort zone. Offer college tips that will help them meet more people (i.e. attending a dorm activity, a school athletic event, or a study session) and get involved in things they enjoy (i.e. music, working out, outdoor excursions offered by the school). If you’re not sure what to suggest, you can check out the calendar of events that can be found on most schools’ websites.
  4. Be slow to rush to the rescue.  The first few weeks or months of college will likely present new challenges to your student. These are to be expected and are rarely serious enough to require parental intervention.  So when this happens, it is important that instead of thinking, “How can I fix this?” you think, “How can I support my student in dealing with this himself/herself?” Provide your student with direction, but don’t make the call for him/her. The more your student is able to deal with these challenges on his/her own, the more confident he/she is likely to feel.
  5. Surprise them with care packages.
    There’s nothing like getting mail to lift your spirits when you’re adjusting to a new place, but getting a care package is the best! These packages not only tell your student that you’re thinking about them, they can also give your student the opportunity to break the ice with other people in his/her residence hall. So, while you should be sure to include a few special things for your student, don’t forget to also include some treats such as cookies and microwave popcorn that can be shared with others.

Even though starting college can involve significant adjustments, it’s important to remember that students can be very resilient and resourceful. Even when facing a number of new challenges and situations, they are likely to be able to successfully navigate their way through them. Most importantly, with your wisdom and encouragement, they can also develop skills from the experience that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.