The transition to college does not happen in a vacuum, nor does it happen overnight.
No matter how prepared students think they are starting college is the beginning of something new. Understanding your student’s new way of life, and being available to listen and make suggestions, if asked, is important to your student’s new way of life. Your continued support is important to your student’s adaptation to the college experience.
In popular television and movies, college is often shown as a place where students’ primary goal is socialization. This is an inaccurate depiction, though much value does come through out of class and co-curricular activities. More and more, students are working and balancing their class work with multiple responsibilities. College is a time of change for students as they struggle with identity issues, often they may test themselves and push the limits they have previously accepted. During the first year of college, many students find their first opportunity to test their decision-making abilities in real-life situations.
As students ask themselves, “Who am I and who do I want to become?,” they may also try out new values and experiment with new roles. They may seek out new challenges or take risks, small and large, that they have not tackled before. For some students, this means adopting a new image- different clothes, different friends; for others it may mean testing out new behaviors. Still others will be confronted with new views on politics, morality or religion and may consider adopting a new view for a short time or for longer.
Overall, during this time period, students are making more and more daily decisions independently, resulting in greater self-confidence. It also results in a changing family relationship. The dynamics of family interactions shift. It is important that students realize that they have parental support, whether or not they are active in seeking out that support. As students struggle with issues of developing competence and identity, on occasion, they will push against set boundaries. Often, discussions that students have with their parents in the months prior to moving to college help strengthen the lines of communication that will be so important in the coming years.
Very shortly, your attention may turn to the more tangible aspects of the move to campus - packing and purchasing supplies. Add discussions about important issues to your list of things to accomplish before moving day. If your student is planning to commute to campus, it is equally important to begin discussions about his/her dual roles and responsibilities at home and on campus, and how these roles will be balanced.
No one can be expected to accept all of the changes that lie ahead without giving them a second thought. By exploring issues in advance, you will send clear messages that your student can recall later. But perhaps the most important message you can give your student is this: “I care for you and I want for you all of the things that make you the happiest. And I guess you, not I, are the one who knows best what those things are.” Trust your student. You have spent many years giving them advice. Over the next few years, you will see the results, as your student matures into a responsible, independent adult. It is a wonderful process, though sometimes rocky.
As it starts, you may want to have key conversations with your student. It may make a difference in the long run.