Facilitating Your Teen's Transition Into College

By Modesto Jesus Hevia, PsyD, Core Faculty in the Clinical Psychology Department October 05, 2015

Mental Health Tips from William James College Faculty: Facilitating Your Teen's Transition into College, by Modesto Jesus Hevia, PsyD, Core Faculty in the Clinical Psychology Department.

Few events are as poignant (and anxiety provoking) for parents as seeing a child off to college. Transitioning into college is a gradual process that, like any other major transition in life, has aspects that unfold over time and are expectable and even predictable. The process does not end once a student arrives on campus. Each year of college brings with it developmental and academic challenges that students have to successfully negotiate and master. Parents can help their college-age children anticipate and navigate these and by so doing facilitate this challenging but ultimately rewarding transition.

Tips for Parents

Before your child enters college:

  • Don’t wait until your high-schooler’s senior year before broaching the topic of college! 
  • Give your teen the room to brainstorm out loud about choices, career interests, etc. Try to be a good and non-judgmental listener. Sometimes teens just need a sounding board. 
  • Encourage your college-age children to research the colleges in which they appear interested. The internet is a valuable resource for this. Offer to engage in this process with them. 
  • Be prepared to visit campuses with your child. All institutions of higher learning are active recruiters of prospective students and have mechanisms and programming in place for hosting visits and the like. 

Once your children are at college: 

  • For first year students, mastering separation is a prominent challenge. This includes adjusting to being away from family and friends and assuming responsibility for day-to-day choices and activities. They have to familiarize themselves with the campus community and establish a new circle of acquaintances and friends. Not surprisingly, homesickness is a common – but usually transitory-experience for them. 
  • Second-year students face a different set of adaptive demands. Having settled successfully into the campus community, they are now expected to declare a major. As they examine their values and decide on a major field of interest (thereby potentially foreclosing on others), second-year students may become a bit sad and will feel the so-called, “sophomore existential blues.” This is usually quite temporary – but like any other existential issue, it can feel very distressing. 
  • In their third year, students are expected to show success in their majors. This brings with it yet another set of challenges and pressures. College juniors may also start worrying about the future and finding their life partners; at times they will act as if they truly believe that if this doesn’t happen in college it never will. 
  • Finally, for college seniors separation once again becomes a major theme as they start to ponder life after college and the prospect of making a place for themselves in the adult world. Not surprisingly, procrastination often becomes an issue for them. 

Final Tip: Try to convey the message to your college-age children that you trust them to be on their own, but are there if they need you.