Moving from high school into the realm of higher education can be intimidating. There’s the lifestyle change away from parents and guardians, an increased workload from harder courses and lots of tough decisions to make at every turn. If your child is transitioning into higher education this year, here’s how to help them along the emotional journey—no matter what chapter they’re in—and take care of yourself in the process too.
Transition into the first year of college is easily the biggest adjustment a student can make. Aside from moving away from home (sometimes nearby or far, far away), meeting new friends and choosing an educational pathway, there are dozens of emotional scenarios that students should be aware of and learn to adapt to. Here are some of the primary emotions students can expect to feel, situations where they might encounter them and how they can react to feeling them in healthy ways.
Fear or Anxiety
It’s normal for young adults to feel a sense of fear or anxiety. These emotions can show up in physical, mental and behavioral ways. If your child is showing any symptoms of fear or anxiety, it’s best to talk to them about how to approach them. Their strategies could be as simple as calling home when they need to, or finding a few quiet moments to themselves. If anxiety persists over time, students should seek out additional help from mental health professionals on or off campus.
Sadness or Loneliness
When the initial excitement of welcoming activities wears off, students may still feel a sense of sadness when missing home or their life before college. Sadness should always be addressed and released. Loneliness, on the other hand, is also very common for first-year students. Students may feel as if they’re not making friends or socializing as much as they thought they would. One of the best ways to combat loneliness is to encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities.
Stress or a Sense of Being Overwhelmed
College-level courses are more difficult than those in high school, and one of the toughest parts of the university lifestyle is learning to balance it all. If your child is feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, it’s best to have them reach out for help, that way they can see if there are any parts of their schedule that should be adjusted, or any additional resources that would be helpful to them.
Remember, college is designed for students to have to approach emotional and educational situations that will be challenging time and time again. The staff and faculty members are there to help. Encourage your child to reach out to faculty members who they feel connected with in their classes, as well as on-campus mental health counselors, academic advisers and extracurricular leaders. They are not alone, and there is certainly someone who is willing to help them.
3 Nonessential Items Your College Student Needs
Whether they have a noisy roommate or the table next to them at the library doesn’t understand the no-talking rule, noise-canceling headphones are key to getting assignments done on time with no distractions.
Folding Drying Rack
On-campus washers and dryers tend to not be up to par to your at-home machines. With a folding drying rack, they’ll avoid the inevitable shrinking of their favorite shirt and keep everything organized in their own room too.
Come late-night trips to the library or evenings out, they’ll be thankful for a small, portable charger that gives their phone battery life once again.
The second year of college is unique in its own way and offers its own set of academic and emotional challenges for many students. Aside from the initial, and at times recurring, emotions of the first year, the second year comes with an increased responsibility in classes and extracurricular participation, as well as tough decisions on where or how to live (with or without roommates, locations on or off campus and so on), what major to choose, what internships to apply for and what the next three years will look like for a student’s academic journey.
To transition into the second year of college, students should address a few big questions.
Are they happy where they are and in what they’re studying?
If a student is feeling particularly out of sync with a college experience, there could be another school that would better suit their needs. Students should take time to recognize what they love and don’t love about their chosen school and explore other options if needed.
If the student is not happy with what they’re studying, try something else. Students are able to look into other programs at any time, but should be aware of the repercussions beforehand of adjusting their course of study, such as potentially having to take summer classes, additional semesters or prerequisite courses. The best courses of action include finding new programs and discussing with an adviser, or talking with students who are in the field of interest
Is the student ready for the responsibility of an internship or job?
Depending on the field of study, an internship may be a mandatory requirement for a student during a certain year of school. During sophomore year, students need to be looking into these opportunities, and making connections through clubs and professional organizations. To make the most of their research, they should also identify what professional settings they think would be best for them. Do they see themselves as a more independent, quiet worker or an energetic, motivated go-getter? There are many options to choose from, but addressing their own personality traits and experience will help students approach this journey with confidence.
Is the student learning how to cope with emotions through healthy behaviors?
Your student might be coping with new challenges with alcohol, drug usage or harmful emotional reactions toward themselves or others. All students will react differently to peer pressure, exposure to illegal substances and navigating emotional hardships. Be honest with your child if you’re concerned, and reach out for help from on- and off-campus professionals.
OK, so your child is halfway done with their college career. But what does that really mean? A student’s third year will most likely be the most academically challenging time in the student’s college career, which means this is the year to buckle down and focus, both on their academic course load and also on what their future career will look like.
Let’s Talk Academics
Come junior year, students tend to be done with their basic course requirements—think science, math, economics, etc.—meaning their schedules will primarily consist of major-requirement classes. This means your student is really diving deep into whatever they have found to be the most interesting, whether it’s English or computer science, and these classes are really going to push your student to go the extra mile, stand out and excel. It’s important for students to embrace those study habits and time management skills they learned and practiced in the first two years of school. Also, be sure to check in with your student and ensure they’ve met with their college counselor about credits, keeping them on track to graduate on time.
Consider the Importance of Internships
Junior year is also the time where most students consider landing an internship in the career field they are most interested in. The easiest place to start looking is the on-campus career services office, where there are dozens of professionals who can help students navigate the job market, as well as advise them on the likelihood of landing their chosen job. Plus, the career services office staff members are equipped to teach skills on how to properly write a resume and cover letter, and also lead lessons on how to succeed during an upcoming interview. Once a student has the basics down, it’s easy to turn to online resources like LinkedIn, Media Bistro, Glassdoor and more when job hunting.
Take on Leadership Roles
By the end of junior year, students may also be considering getting even more involved in the clubs, organizations and sports teams they are already a part of. Going for and landing a leadership role in these categories is definitely worth consideration, as leadership roles make every young adult stand out on resumes and cover letters, and also excel in the workforce in general.
Congratulations, your child has made it to the final year of their college career! This is a big deal. And, while come the end of the year it will be time to celebrate, the homestretch isn’t all fun and games, as this year is a period of high anxiety and stress for many scholars who fear the future. Until this final year, everything in your student’s life has followed a predetermined path and been a series of checking boxes, yet now it’s time for them to take the reins and figure out what comes next. Graduate school? A new job? A year off traveling the world? Here are some tips to make figuring it all out just a little bit easier.
Get Comfortable with the Idea of Change
Yes, change is scary. But as students enter the “real world,” it’s important to understand that the first thing they jump into, whether it’s a job or a track toward a graduate degree, will probably not be their last. In fact, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people hold an average of 11.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48, many of which vary in subject from the college degree they initially pursued. The transition out of college is just the first of many, and accepting that will be better for all young adults in the long run.
According to Purdue Global, 45% of college students say they experience “more-than-average stress” every year at university. And, with high levels of stress come some pretty dangerous effects, including upset stomach, exhaustion and even depression, causing many to turn to unhealthy outlets as cures, like alcohol, tobacco or drugs. A few key activities that ensure your kid will stay calm and happy are exercising, taking on a hobby to clear their head when it feels foggy and overwhelmed and also leaning on a support system. The latter is extremely important, as the people they surround themselves with can be there for them in even the toughest times.
Keep Mentorship in Mind
Upon graduation, networking is an essential part of everyday life. And, those networks start forming while on campus thanks to mentors—the adult teachers or professionals who have made a strong impact on your child during their college career. These are the people your student feels most comfortable turning to for advice. It’s important that this year, your student identifies who those people are and nurtures those connections, as they can lead to future opportunities in the job market, graduate school or even overseas opportunities.
Don’t Put Social Life on the Back Burner
As a senior, it’s essential to not forget to have fun and put yourself first! For many students, the last year of college is one of the final moments they’ll be in walking distance to some of their closest friends, so it’s important to savor that. Remind your child that while post-graduate life is important, it’s key to live in the present moment and soak it all in while it’s happening in front of them.
By the Numbers
3.7 million students graduated from high school in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$11,260 – The average cost of a year of college tuition at an in-state public school, according to USA Today
$27,120 – The average cost of a year of college tuition at an out-of- state public school, according to USA Today
$41,426 – The average cost of a year of college tuition at a private school, according to USA Today
$18,470 – The average amount of federal student aid per full-time student, according to College Board
Over their lifetimes, college graduates are estimated to make more than $1 million more than their non-graduate or high school graduate peers, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University.
$17,500 – The median yearly income gap of college graduates and their high school graduate counterparts.