No matter how much we plan for them or how excited (or unexcited) we are for them to occur, transitions are stressful. Heading off to college is no different. There’s packing, moving, leaving the safety and familiarity of home, leaving friends and family… and embarking on a new adventure in an unfamiliar world where there will be lots of other students you don’t know. Some arrive with nervous excitement and others with fears and anxieties. Either way, it’s important to remember, you’re all in the same boat. Everyone is trying to figure out this new community called college, and most are in need of new friends and will be relieved to make them.
Any time we face a transition in life, we are changing the equilibrium of our current world. As students prepare to “launch” from home, the family system is thrown off balance into a new way of being, and people react to this disequilibrium in a variety of ways. Old family arguments may emerge; parents may find themselves snapping at each other; the student may suddenly become more irritable. Since people react in such different ways to change, it is important to recognize during this time that this is a normal part of the process. In fact, it can even serve the adaptive purpose of making the separation easier (i.e. a rising college student may revisit old arguments with a sibling which result in thinking, “I am so sick of my brother, I will be glad to get away!”).
It’s important to remember that preparing a student for college doesn’t begin their senior year in high school. It is a life-long process that begins with how mom and dad parent a child from birth onward. Families that have the most successful children tend to come from parents who have high expectations, a high level of respect and a high level of support (in terms of emotional and physical presence) for their child. During the transition to college, it is important for families to continue to demonstrate this respect, support and belief in the student’s success.
Tips for Students
- It’s a surprising experience for most students to learn how different their family is from other families. Growing up, it is easy to believe that one’s family is very similar to another. In fact, families have very different rules, expectations and norms. If you’re living in a dorm with a roommate, don’t assume anything. Talk with your roommate about how to handle conflict, keeping the dorm space clean, and overnight visitors before the situations ever arise.
- Communicate directly with your roommate; don’t assume your roommate can read your mind. People think about situations in very different ways. You don’t know where your roommate is coming from until you ask.
- Walk around campus and find out where all your classes are before the first day of school.
- Find out where the health clinic is and how to reach campus security.
- Be careful what you post on-line or on Facebook or in other social media outlets. Announcing that you are alone in the dorm this weekend may not be the safest plan; be cautious.
- Homesickness is normal. Don’t go home for the first couple of months. Give yourself time to adjust, meet new people, and get involved on campus.
- Don’t call your parents from class to talk with your professor. (Yes, this actually happens.) It is your responsibility to talk with your professors, earn your grades, and do well on your exams, not your parents’, not your professors’.
- Don’t film your roommate (or anyone for that matter) unclothed or having sex. This is sexual harassment, and you can end up facing criminal charges for this…or even knowing about it and not stopping it.
- Decide what you value and make decisions that are consistent with those values.
- College can be lots of fun, but remember your first task in college is to study. Make this your main job. Plan for this. Cramming the night before an exam like you did in high school is most likely not going to work.
To further ensure a successful transition to college, consider Coaching for College Students.
Parents face their own transitions when children go off to college. Life Transitions Coaching can help parents redirect their focus on what they want to achieve for themselves in the next stage of their lives.