College: Like Training for a Marathon

Summertime.  It’s a great relief on so many levels.  Time to sleep in, a chance to stop making lunches every morning and a terrific opportunity to stop chasing (as many) deadlines and take a breather as a family.  It’s also a golden opportunity for students to learn more about themselves and rack up some practical and (possibly) paid work experience.

Left to themselves, however, many high school-aged kids will not take the initiative to seek out a learning/experiential plan for their summer … they may need some guidance from you to get started.

The thing to keep in mind is that leaving home and attending college will be a transition.  Easy for some, highly stressful for others and, for most, somewhere in-between.   Wherever your son or daughter falls on this continuum, the preparation for this life-changing event is best begun at the start of the high school years. (It’s okay if your child is already a senior – you can cram a lot into the next few months!)

Some independence building, of course, can be done all year round – setting their own alarm, learning to cook and do their laundry, not being rescued from every bad decision, etc.  All examples of how we as parents can help. 

But in the summer, there is time to dive into an experience that may take your child outside his/her comfort zone and help them go back to school in the fall a little more confident and with some real world experiences to share with their friends and teachers.

It doesn’t have to be a pricey adventure camp or international mission trip either.  What matters is that it is different from the usual routine. If your child has not spent much time away from home, the summer is a perfect time for them to be on their own for a couple of weeks. After all, going off to college is like running a marathon – you don’t just lace up your running shoes one day and take off for 26 miles. Small doses of increasing independence and getting a taste of unfamiliar (maybe uncomfortable things) will go a long way in helping your child get ready to be on their own. Even going away from home to stay with a relative is a start.

Summer is also a perfect time to explore any areas that your child may be thinking about as possible majors or careers. Many programs/schools do have a specific focus and it is really important for your student to have spent time looking into that field before they pursue that type of school.

I have visited 11 campuses since I sent my last newsletter to you. Some schools were quite specific – a culinary school, a military school, an art school and a Health Sciences school. The students applying to those schools or specific programs such as nursing, engineering, etc will have a better chance of a good match if they have spent some time volunteering or shadowing others in the field, possibly attending a pre-college program or setting up an internship. Colleges also like to see that students applying into specific fields or majors have explored these in advance.

And I know, your teen may be resistant to adding more structure to the lazy summer days.  But believe me, everyone in the house will be happier if there is a plan for activities that promote personal growth and your child has something to be excited about that is theirs to own. Finding an area of interest (maybe even a passion) may be the hook that is needed for some students who are reluctant to dive into their schoolwork during the year. They may be able to see the connection between needing to do reasonably well in high school to get accepted into a program/ major that appeals to them.

These are important steps and the earlier taken the better.

The time spent learning about themselves and developing a greater sense of independence will pay off many times over in helping with a smooth transition when the time comes to leave home.  Happy summer.

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