Making the Transition to College

It’s the time of year that seniors in high school are ready to move on. They have finished the college applications, heard the decisions, both good and bad, and paid their deposit to the school of their choice. All that’s left is high school graduation, the freedom of summer and starting a new chapter in the fall. Made in the shade, right?

Not necessarily. This time of transition can be stressful for students. Everything about their lives is about to change. And they haven’t figured that out yet. Once students move onto their college campus, they are in a new phase of their life and it can be a bumpy ride.


Academically, life is very different. A typical first year college student is in class 15 hours a week. That’s probably less than half the time that they spent in class during high school. What students don’t realize is that they should be spending at least 30 hours a week on their school-work outside of the classroom. Many first year students I know are amazed at how much free time they have and they don’t use it wisely. By the middle of the semester, they may have figured out that they should have done all that textbook reading that is on the syllabus instead of sleeping all afternoon. Professors expect the students to work on their own outside of class and it is a rare student who is successful who doesn’t do this.

Also, there are far fewer grades on which a student’s final grade is based. I once had a first year student whose class had four equally weighted tests that determined the final grade in the course. My student assured me that he was going to get an A in the class despite a 50 on the first test and a 55 on the second. Clearly that didn’t happen.

Social Life

Students are on their own for the first time. They have to get up in time for class without a parent waking them up. They must get to meals on time. The food is different than what they had at home. They have to do their own laundry. They have to make new friends and adjust to having a roommate or two. Students are given a lot of responsibility from the very first day on campus. Balancing the academic side and the social side can be difficult.

How to Help

What can parents do to help their students? Talking about what’s going to change can help ease the stress. Encourage your child to become a self-advocate and to seek out help if needed. College campuses are full of resources and they are there to help students succeed. Staying on campus and getting involved in the life of the school can go a long way to making students feel part of a community and keep loneliness at bay. Be prepared for tear-filled phone conversations but don’t panic. They will use you as a sounding board but, with your support, they will make it through that first semester.