Making the Leap from High School to College
If your child is leaving for college in the fall, you’re probably worrying about their ability to make the leap from high school to college. For many, it can be quite an adjustment, especially if they are leaving home for the first time. Being entirely responsible for their studies can present many challenges – both physical and emotional.
It can help both parents and students to talk about the changes ahead. Keep in mind that your role is to provide encouragement and support, and there’s a fine line between that and telling them what to do.
Before they leave for college
These are some of the things you might want to talk about and get done before they leave:
• Meeting their roommate
If they’re going to a college away from home, colleges sometimes provide the name and address of their new roommate. It can be helpful to content them and, if possible, meet before they actually go to college. With Skype and other Internet video chat applications, they can at least meet virtually. That way when they arrive, they will at least have one person they already feel comfortable with.
• What to take with you
Wait until your child has seen the size and dimension of the dorm room - and talked to their roommate – before deciding to take any large items with them (big-screen TV, skis, winter parkas, etc.). Once you all know the lay of the land, you can either get these items later or ship them.
• Handling money
Establish ground rules for managing their finances. Are you going to establish an account and deposit funds each month? Have them work out a preliminary budget. Discuss what happens if they find they need more money - will they have access to a credit card?
It's important to discuss this before they leave. Once they’re in the swing of things, it’s easy to overspend.
• Alcohol and Drugs
Even though you’ve had this conversation before – probably since middle school – it’s time to have it again. College is a different ballgame. You won’t be there to guide them or see any warning signs. Find a credible drug education program that gives them all the facts. Make sure they are aware of the statistics and the dangers of certain drugs, as well as the results of mixing drugs and alcohol.
• Always Be There
Make sure that your child knows that he or she can call you at any time if something comes up. Make it safe to do so – assure them that you will always be there for them, no matter what happens.
• The Last Hurrah!
Spend time together before they leave. This can be a challenge when there is so much to do, and they’re distracted. Plan a special, fun outing that they will remember.
The first eight weeks
Once the excitement of the first week wears off, reality sets in, and it may not be what they thought it would be. There are a multitude of things that could upset them – they don’t get on with their roommate, or they miss home more they anticipated. Perhaps the work load is proving to be stressful and challenging.
Here are some of the issues college students grapple with in the first eight weeks:
• Homesickness and loneliness
• Difficulty managing unlimited freedom and time
• Academic pressure
• Social awkwardness
• Feelings of self-doubt and inferiority, trouble finding sense of self
• Peer pressure related to alcohol, drugs, and sex
• Roommate conflict
Encourage your child to use campus resources for help when necessary--for example, resident advisors for dorm issues, counselors for anxiety and/or depression issues, tutors for academic help.
As a parent, you'll want to be as supportive as you can during this period. At some point, you may want to discuss with your child his or her expectations regarding frequency of communication. Would your child prefer to be the one who initiates contact? Would he or she like to be in touch daily, weekly, infrequently? It's important to respect the level of communication your child desires as he or she tries to adjust during this critical period. And keep those care packages coming! Your child will probably make daily trips to the mail room, and he or she will be glad every time a letter or package arrives from you.
College may be seen as a time for partying, but it’s also about academics and preparing for the future. Without good study habits getting through college will be a tough ride. This is where the leap is biggest - college professors are not like high school teachers. They can pile on the assignments and tend to give much less individual attention. So, your child will need to take the initiative, and stay on top of the work.
Here are some study tips:
• Buy a good dictionary and use it – often. Never pass a word or concept you don’t understand.
• Develop a ‘slow but steady’ approach. Cramming work in at the last minute is not the road to success. Get the work done in time so that it’s not necessary to stay up all night before an exam or a paper is due.
• Focus on key points when taking notes in a lecture. If you try to write down everything verbatim, you won't be able to keep up.
• Study when you're most alert, if possible. Save the other parts of the day for exercising, relaxing, socializing, or doing laundry.
• Find a quiet place to study. Loud music or having the TV on creates a distraction and makes your studying less productive.
• For classes where participation is a part of your grade, review your notes right before class so you'll be able to contribute to the discussion.
• Don't cheat. If you're caught, you could get expelled. And if you're not, you're only cheating yourself (now that you're in college, this is your life we're talking about).
• If you get a poor grade on a paper or exam, don't despair and don't give up. Be persistent and dedicated in your studying efforts.
• Seek out your professor during office hours if you need additional guidance--that's what he or she is there for.
• Often there is no right or wrong answer; professors simply want to see if you can present a well-reasoned, articulate, and coherent answer.
• Check your work over for mistakes before you turn it in.
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