College Freshman Transitions


Depending on the child, there is a lot of variation regarding how often they want to hear from you during those first few months away from home. And frequently, what they consider optimal and what you consider optimal are not aligned.  (It’s like that scene with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.  While they agree that they are having sex three times a week, they have very different views on whether it’s too much or not nearly enough!)

In any case, you can be sure that you will hear from them when there is a problem with their class schedule, they are not feeling well, or they have run out of money!  Otherwise, it is usually best for all concerned if you come to some agreement regarding expectations.

I recommend that you set up a day for a weekly Skype session (free download if not already installed on your computer). The exact timing may need to be flexible week to week, but it’s good if everyone knows that on Sunday evening (or whatever day/time works) – you plan to skype for a half hour or so. You may text or e-mail briefly in between if needed, but otherwise it’s good to keep your distance a bit and let your child (and you) have some space to settle in.

Get Involved:

Chances are, this is the biggest life transition that your child has ever experienced – it will require some adjusting.  Many kids will feel some homesickness but will plow through it by getting involved on campus and meeting new friends.Others, who may be less outgoing by nature, may be tempted to hang in their rooms and hope they will start to feel more of a connection soon. They may also want to come home frequently on weekends, making it harder to settle in.  For this less gregarious group, encourage your child to find some activity to get involved with and to reach out to other like-minded kids;  everyone is looking for new friends in the beginning of the year.

Studies show that students who connect socially are much more successful academically and more apt to stay in school. It’s also important for your child to realize that they are more likely to thrive as a student if they choose friends who are on campus for an education, not just to party!

Also, it’s not a bad idea for the adults at home to begin a new hobby or explore a new work direction if your child going off to college leaves a big void in your life.

Access Support Services:

It’s important during these first few months to listen carefully to your child and to leave time to ask them how they are doing – both emotionally and academically. Some students will benefit by setting up an appointment with counseling services to help get through any anxiety, depression or feelings of being overwhelmed that may surface.

Some degree of these feelings is normal, but it gets problematic if they don’t go away. This is important to be on top of as getting help early can make a difference in whether the student makes it through the semester.

Academic support services are available at every campus, although in varying degrees. I have never visited a school that did not offer tutoring and many have a math and writing center as well.  Some schools even offer workshops on time management, study skills, etc., and these are helpful to any new college student.

One big adjustment for kids is handling all the extra free time they have at college (they spend much less time in class).  They may have a hard time scheduling the two+ hours per class that they are supposed to be studying each week . Not to mention, getting a reasonable amount of sleep, eating a few healthy things on occasion and finding a way to exercise.

Many kids do not access support services until they have received the results of their midterms and by then they are already feeling the stress from lower grades. So, encourage them to be proactive from the start and get support if they need it.

All kids who received academic or mental health support in high school should be starting out with similar services in college – they can always dial down later when they have adjusted and things are going well.

Be Creative:

But they don’t listen to us!!

I hear this frequently from frustrated parents who forget that their kids are now 18 and considered adults. They are asserting their independence and don’t always want unsolicited advice from mom and dad.

Even so, it’s important for them to start out with good habits – they want to be sure that they are among the just 50% of kids who eventually graduate after beginning college.

So, if you don’t think they will hear advice from you, try to find another way. Maybe there is an older sibling, cousin or friend who can check in and help them get off to a good start. Maybe the school has a peer mentor system. Who knows, maybe send them this newsletter!

My best wishes to you and your child for a great first, fall semester.

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