transitioning to college

Most students picture opening the envelope or their email, and finding the announcement of their admission to the college of their choice: the ultimate fulfillment of their dreams as a high school student.  In general, I find students don’t think much beyond this moment, aside from imagining how great college will be.  (For the record, college is pretty great!)  Most parents, however, realize that this celebratory moment is just the beginning.  The transition to college is really exciting on paper, but it is also one of the most challenging moments in the life of a student and her family.

The College Transition for Parents

Parents, as you try to help your student with the transition to college, you must first and foremost be aware of how different college is from when you attended.  Technology, specifically the internet, has dramatically changed how students and parents conduct business with the school.  Everything from paying your tuition bill to interacting with your professors and fellow students has been changed and can have an online component to it. Be prepared for the differences, and be ready to adjust to a learning curve of your own as your child begins his college education.

Communicating With Your College Student

Technology can also change how your child interacts with you.  Do you remember when there was one phone per college dorm, meaning students probably talked to their parents once a week at most?  Do you remember writing and receiving those handwritten letters that took a couple of days to arrive?  While such limited contact was certainly challenging at times, it also forced you to make strong connections with your fellow students and seek out solutions to your problems yourself.  You talked to your professor directly if you needed help in his class.  If you had a conflict with your roommate, you discussed it first with a friend down the hall, or perhaps your Resident Advisor, and learned to resolve those issues yourself.

While you can now text your student multiple times a day and Skype with him, even from his mobile device, we advise instead setting up more limited and pre-established times to speak to encourage the development of his independence.   Obviously the amount of contact will be different for each family, but it is worthwhile to have a conversation from the beginning about how often you will be talking.  One way to make sure your student is prepared to cope with emergencies and challenges in college life is by going over who and what their resources will be on campus.  The college will be mailing all kinds of information about available resources to students before you arrive on campus, and then Orientation will provide further useful information.  Use these resources to help your student habituate to using campus resources, rather than automatically reaching out to you each time he has an issue or a concern. At some point, your child will have to be completely independent, and this transition can be hugely helpful preparation for when he graduates.

Preparing Your Child for College and Independence

Start preparing your child for their new independence now, before she leaves home, by encouraging her to take responsibility for her transition to college.  One way to help with this transition is to encourage your student to participate in a pre-college program.  Most colleges offer optional pre-orientation programs such as back-packing trips.  These sorts of experiences will assist your child in making the kinds of connections that are such a wonderful part of college.  Going away to school, no matter how far, is a scary, exciting, stomach-churning experience. Begin to think now about the ways you can provide your child with the best kind of support—the support that lets him find ways to support himself.

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Written by Sally Ganga
Sally Ganga is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Sally was a senior admissions officer at The University of Chicago, Reed College, and Whittier College. Visit our website to learn more about Sally Ganga.