Transitioning to College

What your student may experience

For your student, college will likely be a period of intellectual stimulation and growth, career exploration and development, increased autonomy, self-exploration and discovery, and social involvement. During this period, your student may forge new identities or seek to clarify their values and beliefs. This may require an examination of self, friends, and family. It may also be a time for exploration and experimentation, and a period in which your student may question or challenge the values with which they grew up.

The changes your student may experience can occur quickly, as they begin to develop new peer relationships, gain competence in new areas, and learn to manage their independence. It is important to recognize that every student will experience their own unique set of challenges and adjustments, just as every parent will have different expectations for and reactions to their student's college experience.

What parents may experience

Often overlooked is the fact that the college experience is a significant transition for parents as well as their students. As parents, you may experience feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride when your student leaves for college. At the same time, you may feel a sense of sadness and pain and have many understandable fears and concerns about your student's future and well-being.

You may worry about your student's safety and ability to care effectively for themselves.  You may fear losing your student as they begin to function more independently and form deep attachments with peers. You may be concerned about how your student will deal with alcohol, drugs, and sexual relationships. You may also wonder how your student's performance in college will reflect on you as the parent. You can expect to feel a variety of emotions.

How you can support your student

Although your student wants and needs to become more autonomous during this period, it is important for your student to know you are still there for them and available to talk about the issues which arise. Maintaining a supportive relationship with your student can be critical to their success particularly during their first year. If you and your student were not particularly close prior to their leaving home, it is still important for you to convey your support. You may be surprised to find that some space and distance from your student can help improve your relationship.

It is important to maintain regular contact with your student, but also to allow space for your student to approach you and set the agenda for some of your conversations. Let your student know that you respect and support their right to make independent decisions and that you will serve as an advocate and an advisor when asked. Finally, recognize that it is normal for your student to seek your help one day and reject it the next. Such behavior can be confusing and exhausting for parents, so make sure to develop or maintain your own support system.  

Before your student starts college, you may want to discuss any expectations for managing finances, academic performance, and communication while they are away from home.  

There are many people involved in the various aspects of your student's college experience. These individuals may include academic advisors, faculty, staff, and residence hall staff.  If there are concerns that your student needs assistance with, your student is encouraged to contact the appropriate person. You or your student may contact the CAPS office if you need help identifying the appropriate person.