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Transitioning from high school to college: Give these tips the old college try

While the idea of going away to college can foster feelings of excitement and eagerness, some students meet this transition with dread and anxiety. College is a student's first foray into post-high school education, accompanied by the expectation of exposure to novel experiences, new opportunities at learning and of course, more freedom. A number of students may find themselves simply not ready for the experience, due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of personal interest pit against the expectations of society and family or generally having a difficult time adjusting to and finding direction in their emerging adult lives.  

The transition from high school to post-high school education is often viewed as a "rite of passage," which can be accompanied by a fair degree of uncertainty. With uncertainty comes stress. As humans, we do a remarkably poor job of handling uncertainty. While the pressure for students to succeed can be strong, the fear and worry felt by parents and caregivers can equally be as strong. In my clinical work, I often hear parents express concerns as to whether their child will be able to manage on his or her own and make positive choices while out of their direct supervision. I often interpret these messages as, "Did I do a good enough job as a parent so my child will succeed?"  

While we may not always know how students will respond to this transition, here are a few things to consider when preparing your child for this important journey. 

  • Make time to talk: Simply talking with your child about going to college can be an important step to easing tension and anxiety. I encourage parents and caregivers to be transparent about their concerns, but be sure to communicate a sense of encouragement and support. Keep in mind that teenagers and young adults are impacted by the degree of stress communicated by their family. Reassurance and a verbal acknowledgement of support can go a long way!
  • Have a plan: In the event your child may find him/herself struggling with this transition, it may be useful to talk about some options. While a little bit of stress and anxiety is to be expected, talking about what they can do if they find themselves overwhelmed is a proactive and sound way of future problem solving.   
  • Know your resources: Colleges are often equipped with a counseling department where students can access services. While many times these services are available without cost, they may be limited to a fixed number of sessions. As a resource, it may be useful to explore these options with your child and encourage him or her to seek support, if needed. Visiting the college, getting to know the area and surrounding resources is highly recommended and is great for alleviating the stress of uncertainty.
  • Stay connected, involved and active: College offers an excellent opportunity for students to connect with others through a variety of clubs, social groups and intramural sports teams. This can be a time to explore new interests, connect with peers and stay active. Involvement in activities and positive social support may help curb the pressure of spending free time indulging in the culture of "partying" often associated with college life. 

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