First Year Of College

In the unrelenting heat of an August afternoon, anxious college freshman lugged heavy footlockers and suitcases up crowded stairwells searching for their new "home." It was move-in day and residence halls across the country were overflowing with activity. Your normally confident and outgoing son was quiet and dazed. You were secretly having a panic attack. There is certainly reason for both you and your first year college student to stress. Here's how to handle the college transition.

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What parents can do to make the transition to college easier

1. Listen to their concerns -- Talk with your son/daughter and ask them how they are feeling. Just talking about how they feel about going away to school can ease the stress and anxiety associated with making the transition to college.

In her welcoming address to college students and their parents, Diane K. Swartz, vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Western Michigan University, advises parents to keep lines of communication open.

"As students enter into adulthood, it's important for parents to begin acting as coaches and advisors, helping their sons and daughters make good decisions without telling them what to do," she says.

2. Teach life skills
Take time to teach your son or daughter the things they need to know to successfully live on their own like doing laundry, cooking and living on a budget. Address those things that can be taken care of or minimized.

Petkas calls that "translating worry into constructive action." Allen felt pretty prepared to live away from her parents. "My mom taught me how to balance a checkbook, I already knew how to study, and I didn't have to worry about cooking because I ate in the cafeteria," she recalls.

3. Encourage your son/daughter to enroll in a "college survival" seminar
According to a study conducted by The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, 73.9 percent of institutions who responded to their annual survey reported that they offer a special course for first year students. Such "college survival" seminars offer a blend of topics essential for student success including study skills, time management, personal development and self-awareness, career exploration, and transition to college.

4. Talk about financial issues
Paying for college and associated expenses may be a worry for your son or daughter, even if they never mention it. Teach them how to set up a budget to manage expenses without going into debt.

"Credit card companies are going after college students because they want to get their business at a time when students need money," Swartz says. "Some college students are charging large sums of money to pay college expenses. Sometimes they even charge the balance of tuition that their student loans won't cover," Swartz says.

5. Be willing to cut the cord
Allow your son or daughter an appropriate level of independence before they journey off to college. Let them use their own judgment to decide what is best for them and trust them to make good decisions.

"The best thing my mom did was let me loose before I went to college," Fowkes says. "She knew where I was when she needed me, but she let me do my own thing the summer before college. When I went to school, the freedom wasn't an issue for me," he recalls.

6. Negotiate frequency of communication
Petkas recommends talking about how often you'll speak on the phone, visit each other, or send emails.

"Parents need to stay connected to their children and college students need to respect the fact that parents want to 'check in' with them periodically to see how they are doing," Petkas states.

Although they agreed to write emails every day, Allen and her mom ended up talking on the phone daily. "She liked to tell me what was going on at home and I wanted to tell her what was going on at school. We both really wanted to talk to each other," Allen recalls.

7. Negotiate expectations of visits home
Brett Kennedy, executive director of the Parents Association and director of the Parent's Office at the University of Maryland, College Park says that parents often expect things to be the same as before.

"Parents often think that it's going to be just like it was in high school and they are going to be in bed by 11 o'clock," Kennedy says. "That may not be true. Talk about what are reasonable expectations and come to some agreement on the important issues," he advises.

Transitioning from high school to college doesn't have to be a difficult adjustment, for your child or for you. With parental guidance and support you can make a difference in how your son or daughter handles the first year college experience. And, with a little luck, you may enjoy watching them mature into a conscientious young adult ready to take on additional life's challenges.

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