From Stress to More Stress: How Can We Help Our College Kids?

Our high schoolers are pre-occupied with where they hope to go to college. Yes, even 9th graders in high school know that the grades they get as freshmen will affect their GPA. If 9th grade didn’t go so well, 10th graders feel more pressure to get those high grades. And summer experiences matter: spending time with friends; taking tennis lessons; or going on a family trip won’t impress the college admissions staff.

By the time our children become juniors, college is the number one topic of conversation. Taking SATs, ACTs and Subject

Tests causes profound stress. In addition, grades in 11th grade are considered the most important. It’s amazing that our children are able to handle so much pressure at only 16 or 17 years of age. When senior year arrives, the stress of college applications take over, as well as road trips to visit college campuses.

It’s no wonder that, when college acceptances finally arrive, we are ecstatic and relieved that four years of high school culminated in a future for our children, in a college they chose. The rest of senior year is spent celebrating with friends and family. But no one talks about the big transition that lies ahead when our children go to college.

Helping our children get ready for college is a ritual that we enjoy. We spend time shopping for the right dorm essentials, the right clothing and the right technology. We assume our children will adjust to college life in short order, and get help from their peers and residential advisors if necessary. But we don’t really understand how stressful the college transition is for many children, and we don’t’ give them a road map to handle it.

Where does the stress come from? It surrounds them every minute of their college life, starting freshmen year and going right through to graduation. First, it’s the stress of keeping up with their classes and understanding what each professor requires.

Second, it’s the stress of dorm life and living with people they have no prior relationship with. Third, it’s the stress of making lots of choices that we use to make for them including what to eat, when to exercise, and what time to go to sleep. Fourth, it’s the stress of wanting to fit in and needing to develop relationships quickly or end up feeling lonely. Fifth, it’s the stress of wanting to have a good time in college, because that’s what we told them would happen.

Some children handle these stressors better than others, but all college students I’ve ever spoken to tell me they are “stressed”.

As a mother of three daughters who have graduated from college, I believe we need a way to help our children handle the stress they face in college.

The colleges, themselves, attempt to deal with stress, but in a very limited way. Yes, there are orientation programs that cover basic topics from the use of alcohol to protective sex to emergency protocols. But, navigating the stresses of everyday college life is left to the student to figure out or ask for help from their residential advisors in the dorms. Mental health counseling services are usually reserved for those with more serious anxiety and depression issues. The typical student won’t have access to any support or than the student residential advisor.

Based on my experience, I believe more is needed. That’s why I created a coaching program to help prepare students for the transition to college.