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Family Preparation for Transition to College

Preparing for the transition to college is a challenging period full of uncertainty, anxiety, and excitement for both emerging adults and their parents too. Roles are evolving and everyone is trying to figure out how to interact in new and unfamiliar ways. College-bound emerging adults may express the need for more freedom and independence in their decision-making even while parents face the heightened worry of wanting the process to go smoothly; often resulting in tensions, conflicts, and arguments. But this is not inevitable. As parents, you can take proactive steps to manage your own, often conflicting, emotions. The following simple tips will help you better navigate this uncharted territory.

  • Parents will experience a wide range of emotions – sadness, relief, happiness, loss, numbness, maybe even feeling like you are getting old! – but keep in mind, all of these are completely normal.
  • Listen and accept that you will have divergent points of view and differing opinions from your emerging adult.
  • Stay flexible and open; change and evolve just as your emerging adult is doing
  • Take joy in watching your child grow and experiment with new ideas – especially those that differ from yours!
  • Focus on the positives from the experience, not just the obstacles to getting there.

Even with the best of intentions, parents can find themselves becoming over-involved in their student’s preparations and on-campus experiences.  Staying aware of this tendency and mindful of the warning signs will help you avoid this trap. Some of these signs include:

  • Asking questions and talking with university personnel more than your son or daughter
  • Attempting to exert too much influence over choosing a major and/or career path
  • Making the first contact with your student’s roommate or roommate’s parents to coordinate move-in.
  • Filling out student forms and editing your student’s college papers.
  • Providing a daily “wake-up call” or contacting/calling too frequently.

Lastly, parents need to remember their own needs during this process. Grief is common, as is feeling the effects of an “empty nest.” To make sure you are re-experiencing the same freedom and autonomy that your emerging adult is learning, try these suggestions:

  • Use this time to participate in activities you have always wanted to try, but “never had time for” – volunteering, joining a club or interest group, or even taking a class.
  • Spend more time with your partner or other important people in your life.
  • Talk with friends who have college-age children for support and advice.

Be proud of the fact that you have helped normalize this experience and have been instrumental in your emerging adult developing a sense of self-agency, self-efficacy, and independence!

Suggestions adapted from The College of St. Scholastica’s Guide for Families Transitioning to College and The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only by Harlan Cohen.

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