transition to college

This is the final installment of our four-part series on the subject of overparenting, this post takes on how to let go of your college student and impart the skills they will need to make their own way in the world. Be sure to also check out our recently published posts on how to play an appropriate and empowering role in your middle schooler’s life, your child’s college admission process, and the college financing process.

I have three kids, two of them are current college students. If you had asked me four years ago which of them would have the higher GPA and would have taken advantage of more opportunities in their freshman year of college, I would have been 100% wrong in my guess.

What I learned in this time is that experiencing adversity is powerful for stimulating growth. In her junior year of high school, my daughter took AP US History for her first rigorous high school course. It was hard for her—very hard. History was not her natural strength, but the teacher was one of the favorites at the school, and she had decided that AP US History was going to be her foray into the AP curriculum. On her first test, she got a D. She doubled her efforts, reviewed her notes twice as much for the second test and still got a D. Then, she discovered that if she took the time to rewrite the notes, instead of simply reviewing them and trying to memorize them, she would get a B-. If she rewrote them twice, she’d get a B+ or A-. In short, AP US History taught her how to study more effectively and be successful. So when she went off to college, she earned a 3.6 her first semester. Even though it seems to run counter to our instincts as a parent, adversity is necessary for their growth into a successful adult.

Along with this lesson, kids need to learn to take risks. They need to discover for themselves that taking that class and initially falling down may later turn into a success. That asking for that job and risking rejection may turn into a great opportunity. That taking a risk and emailing a coach you just met by chance can result in a recruiting trip a week later and admission to a school you weren’t going to otherwise get into.

Practice this with your children while they are still in high school—and when they go off to college, encourage them to take on challenges, even if that means potential failures. Teach your high school students to dust themselves off and learn from those experiences. Remind them not to retreat back to safety, but to keep pushing forward and figure out how to make it work.

If you can teach your high school student to put adversity into perspective and see its value in terms of future growth, and to learn how to take risks in pursuit of what they want to achieve, you will have imparted perhaps two of the most important lessons you can as a parent. However, as a parent, I also know how difficult this is to do in practice and how much it runs counter to our parental instincts—keep trying!

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Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College.