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Supporting Successful College Transitions

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

College Transitions-1Your son or daughter is off to college. In addition to your workload, you’ve spent time making sure that your child is settled and off to a good start. As parents, it is important to deal with your feelings about this important step in your child’s growth . In addition, you need to be prepared to support the new college student as they transition from home to college.

There are numerous challenges for college freshman and their parents. Even parents with leadership or management skills, may feel daunted by thoughts of what might be. A checklist can help you anticipate some common problems and ways your son or daughter can avoid or deal with them.

Common Problems

It is well know that freshman face many changes as they transition from their high school programs to the rigors of college life. Descriptions of the types of problems abound. During the first months of college, common problems involve homesickness, feelings of academic inadequacy, finance, and stress about test taking or not fitting in. Later, students worry about dropping courses, academic disappointments or burn out. Too often, students don’t expect any problems, especially mental health problems, and don’t seek help in a timely fashion . As with any transition, there are the expected and the unexpected difficulties. Parents can provide these tips to their children to help them avoid some of the most common difficulties:

Use Caution with Courses:

  • Take 14 to 16 credits, not more. Many students who have earned high GPAs and ACT/SAT scores are surprised at the complexity of their courses and the competition they confront. Therefore, take courses that you like and are good at and expect to study more than you did in high school.
  • Take only one high memory or problem-set type of course. If you are over your head after the first week or 10 days, drop a course and replace with an easier one
  • Take courses that allow you to sleep in at least once or twice a week.
  • Go to each instructor’s office hours. Going to office hours is a precursor to work/life networking. Go to course A the first week of the month, course B the second week of the month, etc. This gets you to the instructor’s office at least 3 times during the semester. It isn’t that you need help. You may go to check that you’re on the right track or want tips to read, write, or study more effectively. Get to know what the standards of the course. Ask for models of papers or test questions.

Use Resources:

  • Don’t wait until you need help. You’re the new guy on the block. By the second week of classes, begin to go to study tables, resource centers or advising offices.
  • Make friends with second semester or second year students. Get the low-down on tutors or helpful resources.
  • Services for Students with Disabilities. If you have ever had a diagnosis of some impairment, even at the mildest level, register with the appropriate office before going to campus. You don’t have to have a severe disability to use accommodations. Extra time for tests or papers levels the playing field for you. Get letters for the accommodations you might need for each course, even if you don’t think you need them. It is like buying insurance. You don’t expect to have auto accidents, but they happen. When they do, isn’t it nice to have your policy intact? Most students don’t expect to need more time, but they are, too often, unpleasantly surprised when they take their first multiple choice test. Once getting a low grade on the first exam, it is arduous to make up the points. In addition, if medication has been prescribed, take it with you, even if you don’t expect to use it. During the semester, if you find that you might benefit from taking it, you will have the type and amount that is best for you.
  • Health Service or Psychological/Counseling Services. If you’ve ever had depression and/or anxiety or feel like you’re falling into a stress mess, make an appointment. All campus-based services offer individual help and small group offerings for stress management, yoga, meditation, etc. If you have ever had medication prescribed, take it to school with you so that if you need it, you have something that you know works. Don’t take anyone else’s medication—even for an allergy.

Practice Effective Time/Study Management:

  • Use a semester calendar to schedule all longer-term assignments, papers, and projects. Include special social events related to the college or Greek organizations. Also schedule times when you will go out of town or when others will visit.
  • Use a weekly calendar to schedule classes, weekly assignments, appointments, office hours, etc. Make time to exercise at least 3 times a week.
  • Review the number of credit hours for which you are registered. Double the number. This is the number of hours that you are expected to study. Most colleges recommend 2 hours of outside study for each credit you take. For example, if you are taking 15 hours, then begin the semester by scheduling 25 to 30 hours of study. Think of yourself having a 40-hour work week. Your work is not confined to class time. Once you have your first set of exams, you adjust the schedule.
  • Recognize that athletics and Greek rush take lots of time and mental energy. Allot at least one three-hour block a weekend to study. It is easy to get caught up in all-day/all night/all weekend football and begin the week with little energy and low motivation.
  • Find a study buddy who goes to the library with you. Don’t think you can study in the dorm. It doesn’t work.

Social/Emotional Life

  • Establish a routine for touching base with family and friends. Touch base with others at least once a week, at a time when you are not distracted.
  • If you have a horrible roommate who is really difficult to be with, don’t wait for things to change. To study and succeed, you need your sleep and some peace and quiet. Talk to the resident adviser or call your parent about conflicts or difficulties.
  • Team up with someone trustworthy. Take turns watching each other’s back at parties and perhaps, provide a bit of guidance when necessary.
  • Be a friend. Don’t ignore situations in which you notice someone who looks unusually sad or ill. Suggest a visit to health service or go with them.
  • Be a leader: Decide if you are going to be the model of an impulsive, out of control freshman or someone who uses their smarts to stay within sensible boundaries.
  • Expect ups and downs. The freshman involves new challenges and transitions. These include new friends, harder courses and competition, nasty or unfair instructors, and allergies or illness. Over the semesters, most students develop the coping skills they need, but there are periods when they experience the stress of the uncertain and difficult. The “growing up” process is aided with ample sleep, healthy nutrition, talking with friends/advisors and new stress management strategies.


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