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Tips for transitioning from high school to college life

Classroom chalkboard.

Classroom chalkboard. Credit: iStock

High school graduates may be raring to head off to college and settle into their dorm rooms but it might behoove them to consider a few tips that could help them transition successfully to college life.

To be successful in their new habitat, students should be able to acclimate academically, socially, and be able to separate without too much anxiety, said Dr. Merry McVey-Noble, staff psychologist and adjunct assistant professor of Psychology at Hofstra University.

While “it’s normal for students to feel a little homesick, it’s important to remember that homesickness is temporary and it will fade,” McVey-Noble said. Parents can help by having a scheduled time to check in with their child. Also, encourage them to establish routines at school, she said. “When you establish some routines for yourself at school it will get better.”

However, “being in touch with the child all the time makes it that much harder to have a separation .?.?. For parents, separation can be difficult. Taking care of their own anxiety and not conveying too much of that to the kids” is essential, McVey-Noble said.

To ensure academic success, students can “get a ‘jump-start’ on a reading list for fall classes," said Robert Pertusati, senior associate dean of admissions and director of recruitment at Stony Brook University. “Not only can you purchase the texts in advance, but become acquainted with the content before the first day of classes .?.?. Study the class syllabus to make sure you understand the course expectations and assignment deadlines.”

Also, “find a ‘realistic’ quiet place to study. The dorm room may not be ideal and [instead be] full of distractions,” Pertusati said.

Parents can “encourage the student to create a study schedule without putting too much pressure, and it’s important for them to do this themselves,” McVey-Noble said. “Remind them that structure helps reduce anxiety.” Parents, she said, “may feel the desire to jump in to help students but it’s so important to have the students look around their environment and see what resources they have available to them so they can feel competent. That really helps them build independence.”

Students also need to adjust socially — and parents may have a hard time coming to terms with this. McVey-Noble said, “The student you drop off on the first day of college is unlikely to be the student that you’ll pick up after the first semester. Expect your student to change in many ways, especially socially." This is a time of "great independence and it can be intimidating for some students. Some students might have a hard time making friends and might feel intimidated. Validate them .?.?. and remind them to get engaged and get involved." Because she said, "if you are feeling very alone it’s going to change your college experience .?.?. An engaged student is a very satisfied student.”

Pertusati advised students to “connect with roommates before ‘move-in day. Coordinate room decor and large items to avoid duplication and excessive taste contrast. He also said “networking with fellow students and faculty will open doors for opportunities such as research positions, internships and even study groups.”

Colleges often provide resources such as counseling and student services, assistance with writing, tutoring and time management skills that students can tap into.

Parents can encourage students to access resources available to them, McVey-Noble said. “The parent is still guiding them but the student ultimately is the one who maneuvered within their own environment using the resources they had available.”

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