The transition to college is a significant milestone for adolescents. It is estimated that 18.66 million students were enrolled in a college or university in the United States in 2021, which will likely remain constant for the next few years. As these students embark on new, exciting experiences, they rely heavily on their parents to help them adjust to a new life.
Parents and caregivers play a vital role in college students’ transition to a new school due to the multifaceted support they provide. Parents offer comfort and stability during the often-overwhelming process of adjusting to a new environment, mitigating feelings of anxiety, depression, and homesickness. Their guidance and advice, drawn from their own life experiences, is instrumental in helping students navigate challenges, including time management, study habits, and resource utilization.
The college environment encourages many opportunities for growth, including academic, interpersonal, and individual needs. Parents and caregivers assist with these transitions and can aid through encouragement, promoting well-being, and academic advocacy.
Here are 12 tips on how parents and caregivers can facilitate their students with a smooth transition into college:
- Have open communication. Talk with your student about their feelings and concerns about returning to school. Address any anxieties they may have and reassure them that it is natural to feel excitement and nervousness.
- Set a routine. Encourage your child to gradually shift their sleep schedule to align with class timings and campus routines a week or two before classes start. A healthy routine includes a balance of study hours, extracurricular activities, meals, exercise, and relaxation. A structured routine and a regular sleep schedule contribute to time management, focus, and increased productivity.
- Seek campus resources. Familiarize your student with campus resources, such as academic advising, career development offices, cultural diversity and tutoring centers, and counseling services. If they are further along in their college journey, suggest exploring potential career paths and seeking guidance for internships, part-time jobs, or informal interviews through their campus resources.
- Respect boundaries. Respecting your child’s boundaries is crucial for maintaining a healthy and positive relationship, promoting independence, and fostering a sense of trust and mutual understanding. This demonstrates that you trust your child’s judgment and capabilities, forming the foundation of a strong parent-child relationship.
- Encourage individuality and self-expression. College is when young adults explore their identities and gain independence. When children can express themselves freely, they learn to articulate their feelings, opinions, and ideas, fostering emotional intelligence and a sense of identity. Embracing your child’s unique perspectives bolsters self-esteem and a positive self-image, enabling them to navigate social interactions and relationships with authenticity.
- Embrace flexibility. Remind your child that college life can be unpredictable, with unexpected challenges and changes. Encourage them to embrace flexibility and adaptability in their approach to various situations. Sometimes, saying “yes” to an activity or gathering can create the best memories.
- Teach financial responsibility. Many parents are heavily involved in their student’s finances throughout college. Creating a budget can prevent financial stress and ensure your student makes informed spending decisions. Financial responsibility teaches essential life skills, such as setting priorities, making thoughtful spending choices, and planning for emergencies.
- Share your network. Parents can share their professional and personal networks and connections that might be helpful to college-bound children. These connections can range from professional contacts to potential mentors who can guide students’ academic and career pursuits. If you know other parents with children attending the same college or university, share their contact details and encourage your child to connect.
- Prioritize self-care. College life often brings about heightened stress due to academic demands, social pressures, and the transition to a more independent lifestyle. Discuss self-care practices that can help your student manage stress and maintain emotional well-being. This could include setting aside time for hobbies, journaling, or taking breaks. By nurturing their mental health, students are better equipped to focus on their studies, maintain relationships, and handle setbacks.
- Talk about the dangers of alcohol. Some students may use alcohol to cope with college pressures. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 25% of students report academic consequences of drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. Discuss the many severe and potentially life-changing consequences of underage drinking. If your child asks about your past drinking behavior, be honest. Continue to keep the lines of communication open throughout all college years. Regular communication also makes it easier to check for any potential alcohol use or early signs of a problem.
- Stay engaged after drop-off. Your student has been looking forward to this new feeling of freedom. While communication may differ now, stay interested and involved in their college experience. Ask about classes, activities, and social interaction to show your support and encouragement. Remind them that you are there if they encounter challenges with professors, scheduling, or school administrators.
- Know when to seek help. As parents, we want to do everything to help our children succeed. If your child is consistently struggling with anxiety or depression symptoms, a therapist or psychiatrist may help. Promptly seeking help can increase the likelihood of successful treatment and your child feeling and performing better academically.
These tips can help you find the right balance between offering support and guidance while allowing your college student the freedom to make their own choices and establish their personal space.
Parents’ and caregivers’ assistance with their child’s transition to college and becoming a young adult is transformative. By offering motivation and encouragement, you can help your student persevere through challenging times and maintain their focus on their academic and personal goals.
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