University of Rochester


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Box 270356, 738 Library Road
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Rochester, New York 14627

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Last modified: Friday, 06-Jan-2012 15:47:08 EST

University Counseling Center (UCC)

Understanding the Transition to College

For your son or daughter, college will likely be a period of intellectual stimulation and growth, career exploration and development, increased autonomy, self-exploration and discovery, spiritual growth and social involvement. During this period, your children may forge new identities or seek to clarify their values and beliefs. This may require an examination of self, friends, and family. It may also be a time for exploration and experimentation, and a period in which your children may question or challenge the values you hold dear. The changes your children may experience can occur quickly, as they begin to develop new peer relationships, gain competence in new areas, and learn to manage independence. It is important to recognize that every child will experience his or her own unique challenges and adjustments, just as every parent will have different expectations for and reactions to their child's college experience.

Often overlooked is the fact that the college experience is a significant transition for the parents of college students, too. As parents, you may experience feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride when your children leave for college. At the same time, you may feel a sense of sadness and pain and have many understandable fears and concerns about your children's future and well-being. You may worry about your children's safety and ability to care effectively for themselves. You may fear "losing" your children as they begin to function more independently and forms deep attachments with peers. You may be concerned about how your children will deal with choices and temptations they face. You may also wonder how your children's performance in college will reflect on you as the parent.

Here are some ways you might support your children:

Although your children want and need to become more autonomous during this period, it is important for them to know you are still available. Maintaining a supportive relationship with them can be critical, particularly during their first year of college. If you and your children were not particularly close prior to their leaving home, it is still important for you to convey your support. You may be surprised to find that some space and distance from your children can help improve your relationships with them.

It is important to maintain regular contact with your children, but also to allow space for your children to approach you and set the agenda for some of your conversations. Let your children know that you respect and support their right to make independent decisions and that you will serve as an advocate and an advisor when asked. Finally, recognize that it is normal for your children to seek your help one day and reject it the next. Such behavior can be confusing and exhausting for parents, so make sure to take care of yourself by talking about your feelings with your own support system.

Be realistic and specific with your children about financial issues, including what you will and will not pay for, as well as your expectations for how they will spend money.

It is also important to be realistic about your children's academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your children set reasonable academic goals; and encourage them to seek academic assistance when needed.

The fact that your children have left home does not necessarily prevent family problems from arising or continuing. Refrain from burdening your children with problems from home they have no control over and can do nothing about. Sharing these problems with your children may cause them to worry excessively and even feel guilty that they are away from home and unable to help.

Find out contact information for people involved in the various aspects of your children's college experience. If you have questions, or if a particular problem arises, call the appropriate person, but make sure to involve your children in a collaborative effort to address the problem. Here are resources you may consider contacting at UR:

For Parents & Friends