Transitioning to College

Summer is quickly coming to a close. Many of us have students returning to college or going to college for the first time. Those students going to local commuter schools will have the challenge of ...

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Summer is quickly coming to a close. Many of us have students returning to college or going to college for the first time. Those students going to local commuter schools will have the challenge of reminding Mom and Dad that they're not going into grade 13. Going to a local college is still going to college. It's not high school. The pace, the workload and the social expectations are radically different from those of high school.

As parents of a first time college student, what is your mindset, especially if your college student is staying at home? What are your rules and social expectations? If you don't have any, you should! You're not helping your son or daughter to grow and develop into mature adults by allowing them to treat your home like a flophouse or by treating them like they're in a prison camp.

The transition from high school to college, whether a student stays home or goes away, is huge. There is no effective manual to help us in this regard. Many colleges have "The Freshman Seminar Experience," which is a class designed to help students with their transition from high school to college.

However, first time college students and their parents shouldn't wait until the first day of the semester to talk about the challenges of college life and the transition to campus living if the student is going away to school.

Parents of first time college students who are staying home and going to commuter schools should not wait until September to discuss house rules and social expectations.

College is a challenge no matter how well prepared a first year student might feel. Most high schools do an adequate job in preparing their students for the academic rigor of their college courses. They do a fair job in preparing their students with the necessary skills to survive that first year academically with reading, writing skills and critical thinking skills.

Unfortunately, they do a poor job in preparing first time college students for the emotional and social transition from the structure of high school life to the freedom of college life.

As a college professor for almost thirty years, I feel that too many bright, well intentioned college freshmen are ill equipped to navigate the challenging landscape of college life. Parents should not delude themselves that it's much easier for students who stay home then for those who go away. It is different, but not easier. The stresses are the same, but the intensity might vary.

Community, four year colleges and universities are going to treat your children as adults, whether they're ready for adulthood or not.

A parent's first rude awakening is that they will have no access to their son or daughter's academic performance or social behavior. All correspondence regarding their academic life and social life will be addressed to them. Unless they make other arrangements giving the school permission, no school will disclose any of their business.

So, if halfway through the first semester your son or daughter is failing two courses because he or she is partying too much, you will not be notified.

First semester students need to really work on time management skills. College is nothing like high school, when it comes to accountability, scheduling and doing homework.

On the first day of class, the professor gives out his or her syllabus for the course. On that first day, he or she goes over the assignments, which usually include a lot of reading, maybe a short paper or two, a midterm and a final.

After the first class, the expectation is that the student be prepared for every class with readings and written assignments handed in on time without a reminder. It is also expected that students be present for all exams without excuse or exception. Most professors don't take late assignments and don't look kindly on "I forgot." The only acceptable excuse is a documented note that there was a death in your immediate family or a doctor's note documenting you were near death!

Unfortunately, many college professors don't have an attendance policy. For freshmen, that can be disastrous, especially if the class is boring. Cutting can become contagious during one's freshman year. Urge your students to be careful. Most professors believe attendance is a student issue, but expect all students to be in attendance at all class lectures.

Social life on campus will either make or break your college freshman. Too many freshmen going away for the first time have never dealt with total freedom. The lack of accountability in some cases can be lethal.

During the first month of school, all the clubs and fraternities have social gatherings for the incoming freshman class. It's a great way to meet new friends, but can also give a false picture of college life. Caution your freshman to be careful not to overextend his or herself that first month.

No one on campus is going to monitor your son or daughter's social choices - how much they party, how many classes they cut or how much alcohol they illegally consume on a weekend.

If your son or daughter is having a hard time with the transition to college life, every college campus has a counseling center with counselors available to support your son or daughter through the rough spots. Encourage them to use that resource - that is why they're on campus.

As a parent, know the resources that are available on campus for your son or daughter. If he or she is living on campus, know the name of the dorm advisor. Know what administrator on campus is in charge of campus life, so you have a contact if you have concerns.

It would probably be a good idea to get a copy of your freshman student's handbook. Every college has one and gives it out during freshman orientation. You can probably also find it on the college's website.

The college handbook outlines the college's code of conduct for all students, its' academics, especially around failures and the protocol for academic dismissal. It contains its' policies on illegal drug and alcohol use and the consequences if a student is found in noncompliance.

Before your son or daughter takes leave for school, try to engage him or her in a conversation about college life, time management and responsible decision making. Be concrete in your concerns. Don't preach, but share honestly in a non-judgmental way. At all costs, you want to keep the lines of communication open as your college student begins a new and important chapter in his or her life. It should be a wonderful and exciting adventure!