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Here's a sample of our survey of parents and high school seniors. We separately asked parents and their son or daughter the following questions.
Question: How prepared do you feel your child is to go off on his own?
Dad: Lord knows, I've tried! Honestly, I don't think he will make it. At home, he can't even get himself up for school in the morning.
Question: How well prepared do you feel to be on your own?
Son: I'm ready! The only fear is that my dad will be on my case all the time.
Question: How prepared do you feel your child is to go off on her own?
Mom: She is ready. She's happy and confident and very mature for her age. She will probably be everyone else's "mom" on campus!
Question: How well prepared do you feel to be on your own?
Daughter: Not sure if I'm ready. I've worked at the beach for a summer on my own but going as far away as I am to school, I am beginning to feel scared.
Tips from Mom for Parents (Senior Year)
1. Validate your feelings: Accept and respect your feelings during this stage of your life. Facing change is one of the biggest human fears. The "Launching of Children" phase is a major life transition and feelings of apprehension on the part of all family members are normal. Be thankful to know that these feelings represent a positive attachment between parents and child.
2. Talk about your emotions: Share your experience with and get support from your partner, your family, or a friend who has been through or is going through this kind of a transition. You will not feel so alone with your feelings, and you might be able to help each other get through this experience.
3. Keep a personal journal: A journal can help you express your thoughts and emotions in a very personal and non-threatening form. It will help to acknowledge and validate your feelings. Down the road, it will provide memories of an important period in the life of your child and yourself.
4. Don't be surprised if your student's behavior seems distant at this point: College counselors remind parents that it is not unusual for their children to start acting out at this stage of the game. This technique is often used to distance themselves from their parents before they leave for college.
5. Stay organized: The high school senior year is busy with activities and important deadlines. Keeping a calendar of events and lists of things to do and due dates helps everybody move effectively through a hectic schedule.
6. Enjoy the moment: There will be exciting and memorable moments during your child's senior year. Make the most of them. Try not to get overwhelmed by the "to do" lists, and take one day at a time.
7. Get help from the college counselor at the high school: It is important for both the parents and students to get acquainted with the counselor. College counselors know the ropes with the college application system, and they can be helpful guides along the way.
8. Do not be surprised if your student has no idea of what he wants to study in college at this point: Be patient with your child on choice of school and studies. According to college counselors across the country, less than 10 percent of the senior classes have a good sense of direction when it comes to selecting their area of study.
9. Start allowing opportunities for your child to practice increasing independence: Let's face it; your student will be without you at college. Hopefully, at this point, you have provided the opportunities for her to make decisions and take responsibilities throughout the high school years. During the summer before college, allow more independence when appropriate. This is the time to help your student practice functioning without the safety net of Mom and Dad. They need to develop a sense of responsible independence.
Tips from Steff for Students (Senior Year)
1. Visit the campuses of the colleges being considered: Certainly try to visit and tour the campuses of your primary choices. It is important to get a feel for the environment. If you know someone who is already attending one of your favorite colleges, arrange for a weekend visit. This way, you will capture the true flavor of campus life and have a chance to ask the current students important questions.
2. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't know your area of studies yet: You don't need to declare any major at this point. Odds are that it is too early for you to make this choice. Take time, though, to research your areas of interests. This may help guide you in selecting an area of study. Beware, though, that your interests might change during your years at college!
3. Know the difference between "deferred" and "rejected": Understand that being deferred is not being rejected. Deferrals simply put you on the next list to be considered. (How calmly I can say that now!)
4. Don't give up on your goal: If you receive a deferral or a rejection to your favorite college, don't give up. Write or call the college admissions person or department and, without being critical or defensive, share your disappointment as well as your continuing determination to get in. Colleges want students who really want to be there.
5. Be aware that your parents might get on your nerves: Seniors are so busy with finishing up high school and college applications. Don't be surprised if your parents get on your nerves with constant reminders about things that need to be done. In my case, although Mom was a bit of a pain, she did keep me from procrastinating on important matters.
6. Don't wish your time away! During your senior year, spend as much time as you can doing things you love to do and spend it with the people you want to be with! The last year of high school moves too quickly. Try to enjoy each moment.
From surveys of parents and students across the country, these were selected as the ten biggest fears about the off-to-college transition:
Ten Biggest Off-to-College Fears for Parents
1. Overall safety for my child
2. Losing communication with my child
3. Developing a new relationship with my child
4. My child making poor judgments
5. The dangers of drugs and alcohol
6. My child's inability to handle newfound freedom
7. My inability to let go
8. Dealing with the new Empty Nest at home
9. My changed role as parent
10. My changed relationship with my spouse at home and the effects on the rest of my family
Ten Biggest Off-to-College Fears for Students
1. Not being happy at the school I choose
2. Disliking my roommate
3. That my parents won't trust me on my own
4. Missing my high school friends
6. That college won't be what I expect
7. Choosing a major
8. That I will not meet the school's academic standards
9. Constant contact from my parents
10. Financial problems
Tips from Mom for Parents (Summer Before College)
1. Be aware: Expect and accept emotional eruptions both at the time of your child's departure from home and the time when you drop your child off at college. The departure can be an emotional experience for you as well as your young adult. Tempers can flare or tears can flow. After all, tensions have been building up all summer long in anticipation of this event.
2. Read up: As a parent, go through and read carefully the reams of information sent from the college. Keep a file of this information and don't depend upon your child to read it alone. You will find helpful tips and important directions on schedules, shopping, packing, and move-in that should not be missed.
3. Use your resources: For help in packing, pull from college lists and the advice of others who have gone through the process. A shopping list of college necessities for the freshman year is most helpful while preparing for the move. Colleges often send these lists with the orientation materials. If you don't have one, ask a parent who has recently sent a child off to school if she has one to lend you. Don't count on your own instincts to know what is needed. It is amazing how much you may not think of!
4. Talk about telephone use: Make sure your student knows the ins and outs of his phone plan's calling zones, text messaging costs, and the number of minutes allotted per month. Cell phone overage charges can add up quickly! Email is an effective and cheap way to keep in touch. If the student doesn't own a computer, he can use the school's computer lab.
5. Money matters: Talk financial responsibilities before the move. It is important to communicate openly with your child on money issues. Decide what the respective responsibilities are for parent and child, and set limits when necessary.
6. Meet the Resident Assistant (RA): On move-in day, it is important to meet the Resident or Hall Assistant. Most dormitories will have a meeting during the orientation program to introduce the floor and RA to the parents. If there are any future concerns regarding your child (health, whereabouts, etc.), this is the person, other than the roommate, who can be contacted. It is not the RA's responsibility to parent your college student, but it is their responsibility to keep an eye out for potential dangers or serious problems.
7. Bring and leave the necessary tools: Several times during the freshman move-in, we wished we had the essential tools: hammer, nails, pliers, hooks, and screwdriver. We had everything else. Bring adhesive hooks for the concrete walls of the dorms, the backs of doors, and inside closets. They are great for holding towels, bathrobes, laundry bags, jackets, hats, and purses. Be sure to leave tools with your students, as they may change their room arrangements from time to time.
Tips from Steff for Students (Summer Before College)
1. Prepare to be emotional: Saying goodbye to family and friends can be difficult. No one could have prepared me for the feelings I had as I left my best friend and my boyfriend behind. I felt frightened and lost. Allow yourself to feel the sadness of the goodbyes and know that, with time, everything will feel better.
2. Speak with your roommate ahead of time: Call your assigned roommate for an introduction and to discuss how you will share getting the necessities for the room. The college will send you the name and phone number of your assigned roommate. Make contact with her or him. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but it breaks the ice and helps each of you to plan what to bring to the new living quarters.
3. Pack light: I think it is common that students pack three times the clothing they need or will ever use. I was warned of this before I left, and I still managed to bring enough clothing for the whole floor and probably enough shoes for the entire community!
4. Leave expensive valuables at home: Unfortunately, theft can be a reality on campus. Any valuable jewelry, watches, or other valued items should not come to school. Do not forget to lock your dorm door when you are not in the room.
5. Consider waiting to buy some of the appliances at school: Many colleges allow appliance dealers and stores to sell small refrigerators, microwave ovens, and carpeting on school property during check-in day. Prices are reasonable. Compared with bringing these items, this approach can save a lot of time, space, and hassle.
6. Pack wisely for long-distance moves: For those who fly or take the train to college, box and mail some of your items.
7. Don't be afraid of coed dorms: I had the opportunities to live both in single sex and coed environments in college. Eventually, I liked both, although, at first, I found the coed living arrangements a little less comfortable (maybe if I had been raised in a family with brothers, I would have felt differently). The discomfort did not last long, however. After a short while, except for not being able to share clothing and accessories with my male neighbors, everything was the same as in a single-sex dorm. We hung out together, visited each other's rooms, and got along fine. Most of the time, the polite habit of knocking before entering is practiced.
8. Getting along with the roommate takes work! It is hard enough living in a small, shared space with a stranger, but it is important to try to establish trust and a positive relationship with your roommate. There have been roommate horror stories, but you should try to develop a decent relationship for the time you are together. If the two of you find that you are not meant to room together, talk with your RA and see what can be worked out. In my case, my roommate and I made arrangements to switch after the first semester.
9. Consider your car options: I did not have a car on campus during my first year. I missed having access to one but learned how to get around. Most campuses have transport alternatives to get you where you need to go. However, having my car during my sophomore year brought me a new sense of freedom; I could shop, go into the city, and go places on weekends.
Be aware there are some drawbacks to having the car: everyone becomes your friend in order to bum a ride (to the stores, parties, sporting events, airport, bus or train station, you name it) and finding parking on campus can be next to impossible since colleges are very strict in policing parking. If you don't have a designated sticker, you do get tickets! These tickets can keep you from graduating if they are not paid. And gasoline and general upkeep can be costly on a college student's budget. Also, the chances of car dents and damage because of tight parking are quite high.
Tips from Mom for Parents (The First Year)
1. Expect the empty nest feeling: Allow yourself to feel the sadness that you may experience in an emptier house. The empty nest transition is a big event that can stir up deep emotions for many parents. Letting go of the day-to-day role of parenting is not easy. Many years of your life have been focused on parenting at home and a newly quiet household can feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is normal to feel sadness and a sense of loss.
2. Don't burden your student with your own sadness: An occasional tear is normal. Saying, "I'll miss you when you are gone and am excited for you," is a positive way to be honest and can reassure the child that he or she is appreciated and loved.
3. Grocery shop for your child's favorite items and send care packages: Sending occasional care packages to your child can help cure your empty feeling at the grocery store, and cure your child's empty stomach with goodies from home.
If you don't have the time to shop, many colleges have baskets and boxes available to be ordered and delivered to students for special occasions.
4. Resurrect your old dreams: It is your turn! Get involved in something that you have wanted to take part in and previously did not have enough time to do. Go back to school, take a class, play a sport, join a health club, or take up a hobby. In her book Passages, Gail Sheehy suggests:
It is not through caregiving that a woman looks for a replenishment of purpose in the second half of her life. It is through cultivating talents left half finished, permitting ambitions once piggybacked, becoming aggressive in the service of her own convictions rather than a passive-aggressive party to someone else's.
5. Volunteer your time: If time allows it, get involved with a community activity or charity to help fill some of the empty spaces on a calendar once filled by your child's activities. If you miss the voices of young ones, volunteer at a youth center or club.
6. Don't change your student's bedroom into another room for at least a year: Despite the desire to want to turn your child's room into an office, artists' loft, or sewing room, the returning college student should still be allowed to feel the welcoming comfort of his or her own space on return visits home (at least for the first year). The rite of passage does not mean losing territorial rights!
Tips from Steff for Parents (The First Year)
1. Phases are phases! "Phase" is a word every parent should get used to, since college students can go through many. Phases today include body piercing, tattooing, and adopting different styles in clothing and behavior. Parents need to recognize that this behavior is almost always a phase; the purple hair will not be purple forever. Parents should express any feelings of concern, but in a balanced way. Silence can be interpreted as approval, and heavy criticism can bring on strong resistance. The more understanding and tactful a parent is in discussing the phase, the more likely it is that it will not stick.
2. Try not to put too much pressure on your child regarding specific grade expectations before school starts: Do communicate that you expect them to do their best. Encourage the student to try to get off to a good start in the new environment but don't be overly critical if initial grades are not quite up to expectations. It is difficult enough to adjust to the new atmosphere, schedules, and college-level classes. Be patient and give your child a little time to settle in before placing any undue pressure on him or her.
Tips from Steff for Students (The First Year)
1. Pat yourself on the back for early progress you make: For some of you, moving away from home might be the hardest adjustment you've had to make. You leave the comfort and security of your own home in exchange for what seems like a two-by-two foot room with a person you have been matched up with by a computer. You are initially unfamiliar with the campus, where classes are, and you are forced to meet people and make new friends. This isn't easy.
2. Don't question your actions and decisions too much: You have been raised with parental supervision and advice for seventeen or eighteen years. Now is the time to learn to test your own instincts about new situations and relationships. You might have a negative gut feeling if you are in an uncomfortable situation. Don't ignore it. It is wise to be extra careful the first few weeks of school, as you do not know all the people around you well (although you may think you do). This is not to say don't trust anyone, but trust your own judgments first, and, in awkward situations, take charge if no one else will.
3. Be patient with your adjustment to your new environment: Once the busy orientation schedule is over, you are faced with the reality of college: academics; new schedules; new living quarters; a new person sharing your quarters (in most cases); and new pressures along with new freedom. At times, you may feel out of your comfort zone. This is completely normal. Be patient; it takes time to adjust.
4. Take part in the orientation program: I recommend going through the orientation process. While it may seem silly to some students, you really do meet people you like. (Later, during my sophomore year, I actually chose to work on the orientation staff, which was even more fun!)
5. Beware of procrastination and poor study habits: It is important not to let yourself form bad study habits in the beginning of school. Many freshmen mess up their first semester because they get so involved in all the non-academic activities around them. It is easy to let academics become secondary. Students might never have had the chance to oversleep for their eight a.m. class in high school, but in college, it is so easy to roll over and hit the snooze button.
Assignments can fall behind easily, and the consequences can jeopardize your entire semester. It is important to make the effort to stay disciplined through the tough schedule and the unpopular eight a.m. classes. This can help you to develop and ingrain good habits for the semesters to follow.
Much of the motivation behind doing my best in school was my desire to remain right where I was! It wasn't always easy for me to keep up with my assignments but at least I made the effort.
6. Get to know your professors or assistants: In some of my tougher courses, I found it very helpful to ask for help when needed. If it was necessary, I scheduled appointments with my professor or teaching assistant to answer any important questions regarding my studies or assignments. This shows the professor that you are interested in doing your best.
7. Watch out for weight gain: Be aware that during the first semester, weight can sneak up on you. Let's talk about the "freshman fifteen." This is the weight that a student swears he or she will never gain (only to come home after four months to find old high school clothes snug in the hips and pulling at the waist). Could it be the beer? The starchy cafeteria food? The midnight pizza runs? No matter what the reason, many students (male and female) tend to put on some weight.
I swore I would never gain a pound when I left for school. At first, with the excitement of the move and the freshman activity, I lost weight, but it took no time for me to become relaxed and appreciate how good the soft-serve ice cream and the sugary cereals were, and how delicious pizza could taste at two a.m.! All of this led to the reality of weight gain.
I tried several diets, all of which I eventually dropped. It was funny coming home to Mom and telling her my new secrets for weight loss. She just listened, smiled, and kept quiet. I think she knew it was just a phase.