How to Navigate the Transition to College

How to Navigate the College Transition

Senior summer is a precious time for teenagers and their families. It’s an opportunity to take a break from the grind of high school and enjoy meaningful experiences before college begins. 

It can also be a challenging time. Students and parents both undergo a significant transition between high school and college, and that in-between space is difficult for everyone to navigate. 

When I left home for Harvard, I thought I knew—with that special teenage certainty—what I wanted to study. 

But my path through and after college was anything but a straight line. Poetry, pre-med, publishing, a couple of years trading on Wall Street. And that was all before I went back to school for two PhDs.  

Looking back, it’s clear that I struggled with what I wanted to do because I was still trying to figure out who I was. 

If someone had helped me identify my values—and showed me how to use them to make decisions about my future—I would have saved myself (and my parents) so much time, worry, and frustration!

In some ways, not much has changed since I went to school. College is largely an unknown landscape, and students often lack the tools they need to navigate it successfully. 

What Parents Can Do the Summer before College 

How can families ensure their students have a smooth transition into freshman year of college and beyond? Let’s start by looking at what parents can do during the summer before college and what students can do in those first weeks and months away from home. 

Editor’s note: A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to publish a guest article by Jon Wolf, a life coach for students and owner of YouTime Coaching. The information in this section is informed by Jon’s contributions.

As kids get older, they naturally gain more freedom and responsibility, and parents naturally relinquish some of their control. 

In high school, teenagers may make 55% of their own decisions, while parents make 45% of their decisions for them. In college, those percentages shift dramatically to more like 95% and 5%, respectively. 

Summer is the perfect time for parents to begin encouraging that shift—which, of course, is easier said than done. It can take dedicated effort to adequately prepare your teen for making smart decisions in the face of the newfound freedom they’ll soon experience. 

Here are some recommendations: 

  • Start a conversation with your teen to learn areas they feel prepared in and areas they would like to learn more about 
  • Strategically allow your teen more control in the areas where they need practice, like grocery shopping or keeping their room clean 
  • Share your own college experiences, focusing on the times when you needed help, so they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness or defeat 
  • Maintain an open and collaborative dialogue—and acknowledge that you may not see immediate results 

It’s worth noting that this shift to greater responsibility may require a significant behavioral change from your teenager, which can take time, effort, and commitment. 

Navigating Family Dynamics During the College Transition

As a parent, supporting your student is often easier said than done. You may recognize the challenges your student faces and want to help, but the power dynamics during the teenage years may prevent you from doing so. 

If your child is preparing for their college transition, you might be feeling uncertain about your role. If you aren’t sure how to help them learn to juggle their schedules, get good grades, and enjoy the college experience (safely), know this: You don’t have to do it alone.

Signet’s College Transition Coaching program is designed to help your student develop a framework for college success—as they define it. We’ll pair your student with a highly-trained academic coach who will fully customize the program to meet their needs. 

There’s no challenge too small (How do I make sure I always have clean laundry?) or too big (What major should I choose?) for them to tackle. We can’t stress enough that the college transition isn’t just about logistics: it’s about helping your student figure out who they want to be in the world.

As your student heads off to college, their world is full of possibility. Working with a coach can help them make decisions that align with their values, achieve their goals, and support them as they grow.

If you’d like to learn more about College Transition Coaching, schedule a free consultation with us. We look forward to speaking with you!

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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