By Jessica Kronzer
You look down at your hands to see that you’ve been gnawing on your nails. Again. You’re constantly sweating. Your heart seems to be slamming into your chest… and you’re not even the one applying to college. That transitional time frame beginning with the senior year of high school through to the first year of college is a huge adjustment, not only for the student, but also for their parents. Finding a way to be there for your child without being a “hover” parent can be hard. As either a parent or a student, it’s important to be aware of the other’s feelings and where they might need a little boost during these transitions.
Questions on Both Sides
Applying for college or moving to a new university is more often than not painful, uncomfortable, and terrifying. Luckily, these emotions aren’t a bad thing. Growth requires experiences and change.
Parents: You’re probably wondering how you can best ease these transitions for your child. Talking about college applications and trying to gage where they need help can be difficult. Asking about applications’ progress and your students thoughts on different schools may frustrate them, but checking on them at least once during these months could prevent a later crisis.
Students: It’s crucial to be upfront with your parents. What questions do you have about FAFSA? What kinds of schools can you afford? What qualities are important in a university? Is only getting to see your family over breaks right for you? While I personally believe that students should do most of the work when it comes to applying for college and moving, each child is different and requires different kinds of support.
Separate the Role of a College Applicant/Attendee From the Role of Functioning Almost Adult
Parents: One thing you can do no matter where your student is in the process is to assess their needs as a student, separate from their other needs. If your kid has been making dinner for the family since middle school, you might assume they’re perfectly prepared for college. Being independent, being excited, or being prepared for college does not mean a student isn’t battling an inner need to lock themselves in their bathroom and panic.
Students: As a student, it’s crucial to be upfront with your parents about any areas you are struggling with. Applying for college and attending college can be extremely stressful and there’s really no way of telling how it will affect you until you’re living it.
Emotional Availability for the Win
According to a study done by The Harris Poll, 60 percent of students wish they had received additional help with emotional preparation for college. Fifty percent of students reported feeling stressed most or all of the time at college about pressures like expenses, making new friends, keeping in touch with family and friends at home or elsewhere, and being on their own. Honestly, the best thing you can do as a parent or child transitioning to college is to be aware of each other’s emotions. This is the time period where you are defining your relationship as “adult” child and parent.
Parents: consider setting a time of day or a day of the week that you want your student to check in with you. This will set communication expectations for the both of you, and you might even find yourselves looking forward to your phone dates. Remember to ask about things outside of grades. I know too many students who dread calling their parents because they know the focus of their interaction will be about money and grades, two big stressors. Most students would much rather talk about their favorite meal in the dining hall or a club/sport they want to join. If you change the emphasis of the conversation away from stressors, they may share something deeper with you, like a fascinating fact they learned in class or what new friends they have met on campus.
Students: Treating your parent with love and respect is hugely important if you wish to continue with a positive relationship. Respect that your mom might want that selfie on your first day or that your dad might want a text that you got home okay. On the flip side, students are often ready for change and parents who support their child in this transition are rock stars. I have friends who called their parents or siblings everyday. Others call once a month, and still others only pick up the phone when they need something. Through it all, working to maintain love and respect between you and your parents.
Overall, understand that when a kid leaves for college, this is a time of transition affecting everyone in their life. Siblings and parents are going through separate stresses than their graduating/graduated student. Letting go is painful in many ways but it can make room for so many amazing things. I never would have met some of the most amazing friends, professors, dining hall personnel, and more if I hadn’t made the decision to attend college away from home. Still, my relationship with my siblings and my parents is better than ever because we love each other enough to respect each other’s needs. College can be an incredible experience filled with meeting new people, learning new things, and taking a step to becoming an actual adult if you let it.