We are almost into August, which means college kids will be packing their bags and heading off before you know it. For many parents out there this will be your first time sending a child (or this child, at least!) away from home for more than a few weeks for overnight camp. Dropping off your baby at College is scary, sad, and unsettling. In order to help you BOTH (parents and daughters) prepare for this watershed transition, we have compiled 5 tips for parents AND incoming college freshmen.
Five Tips for Parents:
1. Open Communication
For all of the topics described below (and then some), it is important that you open the door for honest, non-judgmental, and on-going dialogue about college and life in general. Of course, every family has its unique opinion of what’s “okay” to talk about (e.g., drinking, sex, partying, etc.), but the point is to let your daughter know you are approachable, and that you will listen when she does approach you on topics that are important to her. There is a difference between lecturing and offering safe, motherly advice, so play around to see what works.
2. Envision Together
Help your daughter create a (flexible!) vision of what she would like her near future to look like at college. For instance:
What types of friends is she looking for (still after the popular crowd or nicer, loyal friends)?
What sort of activities, clubs, and/or sororities would she like to be apart of, and what might that look like?
Who would she like to be: which parts of herself would she like to emphasize when entering her new environment and which are ready for a shift?
The unknown can be terrifying, so creating a mental image of what she can realistically expect will help decrease anxiety and increase readiness and excitement.
3. Promote Resiliency & Adaptability
While the road map can be completely helpful in making sense of the vast unknown of heading off to college, you want her--and you-- to remain flexible in thinking. Flexibility is a huge predictor in life success, let alone adapting to a new environment. Help her now by keeping her vision broad with multiple paths, and help her once she’s there by encouraging her to go with the flow when things don’t go exactly as she’d hoped or planned. Nothing will be set in stone her first weeks in college, so she can explore different friend groups that are forming and let things unfold as they will…
Don’t worry if the first few weeks are challenging for your daughter. It is okay if she is not head over heels in love with her school--it takes time to figure out and acclimate to a whole new life. She will likely compare her experience to her high school friends who are posting pictures of how AMAZING their lives are (see # 5 in the student section); remind her that everyone shows their best selves on social networking sites and that EVERYONE has their own challenges with adapting to college. Be patient :).
4. Be realistic
Even if your daughter had straight-A’s in high school, college is another beast. It may take a while for her study habits to click, so give her space while she gets into her groove in a new academic setting.
Drinking: Yes, this is inevitable. Drinking is almost unavoidable at most colleges, so this is where the open communication comes in. You do not need to condone drinking, but offer her tips for staying safe if she chooses to (e.g., pacing herself, checking in with her body during and between drinks—and especially shots!). Emphasize the importance of always being in a position to be aware of her surroundings and in control. In the end, she is on her own and will make her own decisions, so the best you can do is encourage safety instead of rebellion!
5. Be a calming resource for her
While validating & normalizing her nerves about the big change, resist the urge to escalate with her. Even though you naturally have your own fears and doubts too, she needs you to be confident in her abilities to succeed and for you to model how to self-soothe when things feel uncomfortable. If your daughter is more the “leap and then look” type, meet her where she is with her enthusiasm and excitement. There will come a time when she feels nervous or lonely, maybe even a week or two once she’s there, and then it will be time to listen, affirm, and help her through in a calming way.
Five Tips for Students:
FYI: while we like to view ourselves as young and relatable (we are; we swear!), we’ve consulted with our college interns on this list to supplement what we know to be true from our years of experience working with teens through this very same transition…
1. Seize this opportunity to start fresh
Who do you want to be? What kind of friend do you want to be and what kinds of friends do you want to surround yourself with? You were a high school freshman FOUR years ago. It’s time to let go of some of your perceived mistakes or regrets and look ahead to the life you want to live! All of us have different “parts” of us--the girl you are when playing a sport or other hobby, the girl you are with certain friends or loved ones, the girl you are when you’re at camp or on vacation...consider the versions of yourself you like the best and make a plan to magnify those aspects. On the flip side, maybe there are certain ways of being that you’d like to minimize or change in some way.
It might be helpful to create some short-term goals for yourself: 2 or 3 simple things that you can try out heading into your first semester and then re-evaluate around Thanksgiving break. You might even re-vamp these goals after the first week or two of school, and that’s okay!
2. BE YOU
New start does not mean completely different (subtext: fake) you. We could have blended this in with #1, but it is SO important it needs its own number. Be the friend you’d like to have while still being your authentic self! If you are more of an introvert and like to have fewer, but more meaningful friendships--don’t be someone you’re not and join a sorority. There’s no shame in who you are, just own it! On the other hand, if you like to be social but are shy...try out being a louder or more outgoing version of the authentic you that’s already there.
3. Have an open mind and go with the flow.
Don’t judge books by their covers. You never know where you are going to meet friends or a significant other; so, be open to trying new things, being nice to those around you in your classes or on your hall, and avoid turning down invitations. Similarly, unless something doesn’t feel right in your gut (see #4), go along to get along. If everyone wants pizza but you, go for pizza!
Approach your roommate situation with this mindset as well. Sharing a (tiny!) room with someone may be a different lifestyle than you are used to. Try to compromise and go with the flow, but also speak up in a mature manner when something isn’t right or bothering you.
4. Make good decisions
We’re not about preaching, but we are about suggesting that you not be THAT girl who makes a lasting impression by getting too drunk, too sloppy, and overall someone other than you. PS: If that does happen to you, it’s NEVER too late to make another impression. Be safe, listen to your gut (conscience, intuition, etc.), and use moderation. Always.
5. It’s normal to feel sad, lonely, and homesick--and it doesn’t usually last long.
We have a sign in our office that reads, “May your life someday be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook.” Don’t forget your “friends” on social media do that too!! Resist the temptation to compare your experience to your friends at other schools and, instead, know that everyone has bad days. You don’t have to LOVE college at the beginning. It is new, scary, and different. Give yourself time to get used to it. At the same time, trust that things will fall in place; you will make friends and have fun before you know it!
We know that the leap from high school to college fills teens and their parents with all sorts of feelings—good ones and not so good ones. This is normal, so let them all happen :). The best thing you can do is explore the way you feel, have an open dialogue about it, and plan to head in with a positive attitude about the kind of experience you’d like to have. For more guidance and support (for incoming freshman and/or their parents), contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847.400.0078.