Transitioning to College: Tips for Parents

The transition from high school to college can be challenging for both students and parents. Helping a college freshman think about the changes ahead can help save time, money, and stress. Here are a few easy, but essential steps parents can take the summer before college to help prepare students for autonomy and success.

  • Remind them to check their school email daily, read everything thoroughly, and determine what needs action. Essential communication comes via email, and this typically starts as soon as the student is admitted. In the months prior to arriving on campus, students need to be looking for messages regarding tuition, class schedules, housing, placement testing, student health requirements, and more. Do not assume they are checking this or that they instinctively know what is important. They are likely used to essential details being communicated to the parent and may not realize that they need to read and respond to many communications.
  • Look on the college webpage with your student to identify what campus resources are available. Student services such as tutoring, writing center, health center, etc. will be covered for them in orientation, but it is good to talk through these ahead of time as they will be digesting a lot of information in their first few weeks.
  • Have your student purchase an academic planner and think about how to use it effectively. Help your student develop a success plan, which includes printing the syllabus for each course, writing down due dates, blocking off time to study, and backward planning for significant assignments.
  • Have your student explore the online student portal if available to identify what information they can access such as how to purchase materials/textbooks*, add/drop classes, access financial information, check grades, check their meal plan, etc. *Note, while many universities now provide digital access to texts, research shows that reading academic writing on screens typically results in lower comprehension and retention. Discuss whether renting or purchasing physical versions, if possible, might contribute to academic success.
  • Start thinking toward graduation now. Most schools offer degree plan information online that lays out what core classes should be taken and a suggested order. Thinking about a basic four-year plan (this will be adjusted with their advisor) can help avoid taking unnecessary courses or missing prerequisites – both of which can prolong college and add expense.
  • Discuss course scheduling – for some students, 15 units are manageable; for others, it might be 18. Also, help them think about what time of day is best for them to take classes, study, etc. For example, loading all courses on two days a week might be helpful for commuters, but can be challenging to manage when midterms or assignments fall on the same days.
  • Talk to your student about self-advocating. Many new students are reluctant to take advantage of office hours, reach out to professors, or seek assistance when needed. Reassure them that the professors and staff are there to help, but the student will often need to be proactive rather than passively waiting for academic feedback, assistance, information, etc.
  • Establish medical power of attorney. Students over age 18 need to designate someone (parent, family, or local friend) who can be given access to their health information if they are unable to consent. Forms for medical and mental health power of attorney can be found online and typically require notarization. It may also be helpful to have the student carry a card with contact information and a note indicating who has POA in his or her wallet.

Author: Kristen McLaren, M.Ed. is starting her 15th year in higher education and is mom to a college junior and a graduate student.

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