Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

April 8, 2024

Transitioning to College

  Transitioning Your Teenager to College 

By: Katie Goldsmith, MS, LCMHCA, NCC

   Young adulthood is an exciting time for your teenager! 18th birthdays, new responsibilities, and for some- their last few months at home before heading off to college. The transitional months between the end of high school and moving in to college can bring up a lot of mixed emotions for teenagers and their families. While there is enthusiasm and positive anticipation for this new chapter, there can also be worry and fear about the changes college can bring.

For a lot of young adults, leaving to college will be the first experience of spending a long time away from home. While of course there are fall, winter, spring and summer breaks, the next 4 years are likely to hold a lot of back-and-forth between their hometown and their college living space. It can certainly be tricky for young adults to navigate going 17-18 years having their parents easily available for help and questions at home, to being in a new space and encountering dilemmas when their parents are cities, states, or even sometimes countries away.

Whether this is your first child leaving to college or you’ve learned some of the ins and outs with your other children already, each individual’s experience is going to be different. The good news is, through the excitement, the nervousness, and every feeling in-between, there are ways you can help your teenager feel prepared for their transition to college. Here are just a few things to keep in mind as you help your child get ready for this next part of their life:

  1. Help them understand the changes they are about to experience and create a navigation plan. There may be things that you have always done for your child while they were living at home that they will now need to learn how to do on their own- such as meal prepping, cleaning/laundry, making appointments, etc. It will be helpful for you to be able to sit down with your teenager to go over how to do these things and allow them time to practice in the months leading up to their move so that they feel well-equipped. Having a communication plan in place will also create shared expectation about when you will expect to hear from each other and how your child can get in touch with you when questions about all of the newness of their lives inevitably arise.
  2. Normalize mixed feelings associated with college. It is completely normal for anyone about to go to college to feel all kinds of feelings- excited, scared, confused, happy, sad, nostalgic, etc. Maybe your child will feel none of those things, or all of the above! Their feelings may also oscillate over the few months between high school graduation and college move-in. It’s important that you let them know their feelings are valid and normal, and offer them support to process those feelings, whether it is talking to you or another trusted adult, or a mental health professional.
  3. Encourage socializing and growing support networks. While your teenager is likely to be focusing a lot on academics while away at school, it’s also important for them to grow a supportive social network that they can spend time with and turn to in times of need while they are away from family and friends from home. Consider setting aside time with your child to explore their university’s offerings for clubs, sports, and other social groups that may be of interest to them. If you get the chance to visit the campus prior to move-in, perhaps during orientation, consider setting up meetings with advisors and student mentors, and introduce your teenager to resource offices such as student life, counseling services, and the career center. Helping and encouraging your child to be aware of the social, academic, and professional resources available on campus ahead of time can allow them ad advantage in setting up their support system once they arrive for the start of classes.

Each individual is different and is likely to have unique thoughts and feelings related to the transition to college- whether being the parent of a new college student, or the student themselves. Transitional times come with both joy and challenge, and it is important to be prepared for the different situations that may arise. Following these tips can be a good start to helping your teenager feel prepared to start this new chapter of their life, and can provide you with comfort in knowing that they have a solid foundation that can set them up for success as they navigate this time. Continue to explore resources and encourage open communication with your teenager about what they need to ease the distress of a transition. As a parent, letting your child know that you are there for them even if they are attending school away from home can mean everything.