So your child is preparing for college this fall….Congratulations!! I know you had a long road to get here. The last two years, in particular, you ran the getting-into-college obstacle course. But now, thankfully, the SAT/ACT studying, the college visits, and the worry about where your child would go to school, are over.
Think about how far you and your child have come in the last two years. You've done a great job, but the journey isn't over yet.
Now it's time to think about your child's next chapter: college.
Two years ago, you probably attended meetings at your child's high school where the college application process was covered in detail. You and your child had a structure. There were college counselors to help you and remind you about deadlines. You never felt alone. And your child was living under the same roof, meaning you had a lot of control.
The next chapter – preparing for college – is quite different. Your child will receive information from the college by mail and email. The focus of the information will be on the details of enrolling into the institution. That means forms related to housing, medical history and academic policies.
You and your child will also be invited to an orientation to become familiar with the campus, the rules and the expectations.
Your child may have an opportunity to meet his or her academic advisor and dorm supervisors.
What's missing from the typical college preparation/orientation? Surprisingly, something huge: your child's ability to live away from home, without your advice, involvement, and the daily structure you provide. But don't worry! You still have time to prepare your child before college starts. Read on to learn what you can do now to make your child's transition to college life smoother and happier.
EASING THE TRANSITION: CRUSH COLLEGE STRESS
As the mom of three daughters who have graduated from college in recent years, I know what your child will face when they arrive on campus. I've learned there are some simple ways to prepare your child to function well on their own, without you overseeing them.
Here are my top 5 tips to help your child in their first semester of college:
1) Time management: College classes don't meet every day, and each student has a unique schedule based on their course choices. So there is a lot of free time each day. Your child needs to schedule their time wisely. One of the keys to academic and social success is creating a productive schedule and sticking to it That's often very difficult for students who have never had that responsibility. I suggest having a discussion with your child about the importance of using their free time productively. Make sure they have a planner and use it daily!
2) Sleep: Once your child moves onto campus, you can no longer regulate their sleeping schedule—if you ever could! Many students are so excited to be “free” their first semester of college that they put sleep at the bottom of their priority list. A couple of late nights in a row won't hurt, but when staying up late becomes a habit and they aren't getting enough sleep, problems can develop: missing classes and getting behind in assignments; catching colds and flus; being unable to focus on homework; and having issues with roommates around their sleeping schedule. Make sure your child understands that a consistent sleep schedule is a must for health and success.
3) Healthy eating: Your child may or may not be a healthy eater when they leave your house to attend college. Since colleges tend to provide typical “kid friendly” food as well as some healthier options, your child may be tempted to follow the crowd and indulge in foods that you didn't prepare for them at home. Yes, that means pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, fries, ice cream, cookies, potato chips and soda. A steady diet of those “comfort foods” will not help your child stay healthy, focused and energetic. Talk to your child about the importance of eating “real” foods (like fruit, vegetables and nuts). Let them know that these foods contain the nutrients that support brain and body.
4) Relaxation/downtime: The first semester of college, in particular, is a time when students are eager to explore friendships, academic interests and activities outside the classroom. It is exciting to see your child trying new things and meeting new people. After all, that's what college is about. But, you should also encourage your child to take time to relax and practice self-care. Everyone needs some downtime. And it's hard to find the time to relax unless you make it a priority, especially when you are living with roommates in a dorm.
5) On-campus support: As parents, you will always have a close relationship with your child. You are probably the “first call” when they have a problem. But once they are living on a college campus, they are moving toward independence. It's important to honor and encourage that transition. One way to do that is to suggest they seek out one or two people, on campus, whom they feel comfortable going to when they have questions or problems. There are many options: an upperclassman; someone who lives in the dorm; a professor; an administrator they met during orientation; or someone at the health center. If your child knows they have support on campus, they are more likely to feel comfortable in their new environment.
The summer before your child starts college is both exciting and stressful. There's a lot of preparation needed for living in a dorm away from home. Most parents are well versed in what to purchase for their child's dorm, and pre-college shopping can be a lot of fun.
In addition, take the time to address some basic issues that your child will face when they are living at college. I have given you my top five tips to help your child have a successful first semester. There are many other things you can discuss with your child before he or she “leaves the nest”, but be sure to cover these five.
I am rooting for your child to have a smooth transition and a successful first semester. Remember that bumps in the road are normal. It's all a learning experience for parent and child.