As a parent, you probably are aware that a world of possibilities awaits your college-bound child. While it’s understandable that parents emphasize the importance of students embracing and making the most of opportunities, it’s equally important for students to understand that becoming more independent does not mean “going it alone.” In fact, a current theme on many campuses is “asking for help is a sign of wisdom and strength.” You can help your emerging adult understand that becoming more self-reliant means not only being more self-aware and holding themselves accountable, but also taking initiative to appropriately utilize resources and support. The greater their ability to do these things, the more likely they are to thrive.
From health centers to learning centers and recreational services to career services, campuses make enormous investments in student support services and resources. In my experience, students who routinely reflect on what is working and what is not, learn to take personal responsibility, and develop the confidence to seek support for both their challenges and aspirations have the most fulfilling experiences. Familiarizing themselves with campus resources and being willing to initiate and appropriately utilize those resources is an important aspect of transitioning to college.
For many students, being proactive and intentional about understanding resources may be a significant shift from high school, where parents and teachers often facilitate support, opportunities, and connections. Students will be bombarded with information about college resources over the summer and during orientation, but they will be on information overload and it will understandably fall off their radar. So, if you know what exists at your student’s college, you can guide them appropriately.
Here are some common resources for undergraduate students at most institutions:
- Academic advising: may include faculty, professional staff, major, and/or peer advisors.
- Career Counseling/Development/Services: help students to explore, develop, and pursue interests and goals.
- Disability Services: offer services and support for students with learning differences to facilitate equitable access.
- Health Center and Counseling Center
- International Programs/Study Abroad
- Learning/Tutoring/Writing Center
- Multicultural Affairs: provide resources for personal identity development, social justice education and institutional advocacy.
- Student clubs and organizations, fitness centers, intramural sports, marching band, performing arts.
- Family/Parent Programs Office: may be within Dean of Students/New Student Programs and includes programming, newsletters, email lists and official social media groups.
Knowing the resources will allow you to appropriately suggest them to your student and to encourage your child to reach out as they discuss various aspects of their college experience. Listen to what they are saying, ask questions, and empower them to learn to understand and manage their own experience. Ultimately, they will gain confidence in being able to assess situations, develop options, and act.
Consider asking a few of the following questions from time to time to check in (or to follow up on something they ask for help with) and to assist them in becoming more independent:
- Are your day-to-day decisions aligned with your well-being, progress, and goals?
- What’s working and what’s not?
- What do you need or need help doing, or what would be helpful?
- What can you (the student) do?
- Who or what can help you? (This is where you can offer suggestions of specific resources and help them take the initiative to reach out.)
It’s understandable you may have some angst about your child being ready for this big step. There will be a period of transition for most students. They may make some mistakes, feel let down, or experience disappointments; keep reminding them they have your unconditional love and support.
However, if you are currently managing most of your teen’s day-to-day responsibilities, fixing many of their problems, or still directing significant aspects of their life, you may find it beneficial to enlist outside help with their upcoming college transition. College student success coaches work intensively and one-on-one with students to enhance their executive functioning skills and become self-regulated learners. They help students gain clarity about their interests, strengths, and motivations. Finally, effective coaches learn about and connect students to specific campus and community resources, opportunities, and affinity groups.
A small number of colleges and universities employ college success coaches, but most coaches work as independent educational consultants. If your student would benefit from individualized support for their transition to college, first contact their institution to see what may be available.
Good luck as your family embarks on a new and exciting chapter!
Beth A. Howland is the founder of College Navigators, LLC and coaches college students to optimize their undergraduate experiences in support of their educational, personal, and career goals. She worked for close to 25 years in a variety of direct service and leadership positions in student support services at Cornell University, Duke University, Ithaca College, Tulane University, and UNC-Chapel Hill.