A Parent’s Shorthand Guide to the College Transition

College Transition

High school graduation is a culmination of emotions, a push-and-pull of opposing feelings on the human psyche. There’s a mixture of anxiety and excitement, happiness and sadness, regret and expectation, and relief and concern. And this doesn’t just apply to the grad either; parents are equally if not oftentimes more immersed in this emotional tug-of-war. If your child is college bound, you are most likely dealing with this plethora of emotion with uncertain expectations of what’s to come, especially if they’re moving away for their college experience. The person that you raised for 17 or more years is taking up permanent residency outside of your home and is being put to the test as an individual in society for perhaps the first time. Some may call it unnecessary anxiety while others call it warranted concern… but regardless of what label you affix to the flood of emotion a parent experiences when a child graduates high school, there are certain things to look out for and expect when your child leaves for college.

While college may initially cause a lot of stress and anxiety for your child, most college freshman are able to flourish and find out who they really are. Whereas your child’s high school could have ranged in size anywhere from 100 to 1000 or more students, college campuses are much larger, usually ranging in the tens of thousands. This offers students an opportunity to find friends who are like-minded, allowing for the chance to find and accept qualities or traits about themselves and to build confidence. So while your child may at first be overwhelmed or anxious in his/her new college surroundings, look forward to them coming into themselves and really getting to know who they are in the next four years. However, while their new-found independence may spell confidence and self-esteem for them, you may be feeling insecure about your role in their lives, but not to worry…

As you’ve grown to expect from every previous streak of independence, there will most likely be a relapse of dependency and need of the parent or of a homebase. This may take the shape of an unexpected visit home, or even just a midnight phone call full of tears and I-miss-you’s. Whatever the manifestation, take this time of temporary dependency for what it is: a little reminder of how your child still needs you. Embrace the moment and offer the love and parenting that is being asked for but also assure your child that he/she is independent and can effectively handle the social and academic pressures of college life. Overindulging your child in the comfort and ease of home life can discourage them from branching out in college and maximizing their opportunities on campus or in the dorms. So while it’s important to soak in the love to be absorbed from a visit home, make sure they’re willing and excited to go back to life at college. If you notice that they’re less than stoked to be going back to campus, you’re child may be undergoing more than a temporary bout of college-related anxiety.

Even though many freshmen find their niche in college, others are less fortunate and are overwhelmed by the pressures presented by school and the daunting challenge of making new friends. While this may be temporary, make sure you’re watching out for signs that your child may be experiencing symptoms of depression during their first year of college. Some signs of freshman year depression may be right in front of you or may require a little detective work. Frequent calls and visits home, no mention of new friends or experiences, sleeping in late, behavior or voice indicative of apathy or lack of motivation, or less-than-stellar grades are indications of college freshman depression. If you feel your child could be experiencing this, talk to them about it, and also explore on campus and internet resources geared towards easing the college transition. It’s important to encourage socializing outside of the dorms, even though they may not feel comfortable or accepted; remind them that there are thousands of people that could be their potential friends. For most freshmen, it’s likely that this period of depression will subside and they will finally find their circle of friends and adjust to the new academic pressures posed by college coursework. However, if not, it is important to be prepared for them expressing a desire to transfer colleges, or even dropout.

While college is deemed important by many for success and self-discovery, it is not written in plans for all. Your initial reaction to hearing your child’s plans to drop out may be shock and anger, however it’s important to realize and take into consideration a number of things. Firstly, it is not uncommon for this to happen; it is estimated that 1 out of every 4 college freshmen will drop out by the end of their first year, and 1 out of every 3 will drop out by graduation. Secondly, it is essential to understand the reasons behind your child’s desire to drop out. Doing so will enable both of you to look at more suitable options for your child’s future: A college that is less academically challenging? A college with a different social atmosphere? A specialized occupation? Thirdly, make sure you’re not putting a college education before your child’s happiness; while a college degree may be significant to you, it may not necessarily be the key to your child’s success or happiness. If your child is voicing a desire to drop out after his/her freshman year of college, your first mode of action may be to encourage him/her to stick with it, expand their social opportunities or lessen their academic load. If that doesn’t work, give them a slight push to explore other college campuses, ones that provide a different atmosphere or have easier academic demands. However, if neither of those seems to quell the dissatisfaction with his/her college experience, simply encourage them to maximize the opportunities available to them without a college degree. Prolonged anger or punishment regarding their decision to drop out will not only lessen their self-concept and efficacy, it will likely damage the relationship between you and your child and lead to resentment and hostility.

Freshman year of college is a time for self-discovery and fulfillment. It presents an opportunity to find one’s place in the world, and solidify one’s personality as well as goals for the future. It is a time that is not only difficult and confusing for the student, but also for the parent as they try to find a balance between offering support and encouraging independence. While you hope that your child grows into the person you want him or her to be, allow them to become the person they themselves want to be. Don’t be surprised if your child enters college as a biology major and leaves with a liberal arts degree. The entire four years spent at college are a time of continual adjustment, and if that adjustment just doesn’t come to a student, it may be likely that that particular college, or college in general, is not suited for them. While this may be difficult for parents to cope with, remember it’s also difficult for the child. Forcing the pursuit of a college degree is not likely to be your best option; instead encourage and promote the pursuit of living up to one’s potential as well as the pursuit of what will bring your child the most happiness in the long run.

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