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Student Lounge: Transitioning to College

Student Lounge is a space for young people to share their lived experiences through our newsletter. This new monthly feature aims to bring you a peek behind the curtain and into the lives of students who attend independent schools in New York City today. Student Lounge will feature student writing and articles by Hallways staff that heavily incorporate student voices.

The start of the new year can be a stressful time for some students, as some wrap up classes and others start fresh in new ones. It can be especially fraught time for seniors, many of whom are finding out about college acceptances if they applied early or wrapping up their college application process. It’s both exciting and anxiety provoking – so much of their work in school is motivated by their desire to get into specific colleges that a college acceptance or rejection can feel like a judgment of their entire academic career. And while students are excited to start their lives as young adults, we often hear from them about how much anxiety they have about the transition out of a familiar academic environment and into higher education and, often, living on their own for the first time.

In a recent “Coping with Transition” workshop Hallways facilitated with a group of seniors, we asked them to share the feelings that come up for them when they think about leaving their school at the end of the year. We wanted to share a few examples of their responses that capture the complexity of their experiences:

“I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving my teachers and friends.”

“I’m excited to make new friends in college, learn and try new things, and start a new chapter in my life.”

“I’m never not stressed about it. It always hangs in the back of your mind, like an annoying little hammer drilling into your brain all the time.”

As these examples show, the excitement and the stress of this time often go hand in hand. Here are some of our top tips for supporting your child as they navigate this exciting, complex process:

  • Critically consider (and challenge!) your own definitions of success: As your child transitions into college, it remains as important as ever to work on expanding your ideas of what success looks like to ensure you are not overly focused on external achievements. Challenge Success, an organization dedicated to student and family wellness, suggests to, “take time to consider the qualities you hope your children have when they leave the nest. How you define success is analogous to your mission statement as a parent. Without considering this explicitly, many families unwittingly default to the prevailing, narrow notion of success. Resist parent peer pressure, be informed and trust your gut.” (http://www.challengesuccess.org/about/mission-vision/)
  • Let your child know that yes, you actually can go home again: Leaving a comfortable or familiar environment for an uncertain one can be a deeply unsettling and anxiety provoking experience for anyone. Foster open communication with your child, and let them know that despite all of their newfound independence, they still have you to lean on and a home (both physical and metaphorical) if they need somewhere soft to land.
  • Demonstrate confidence in your child’s abilities: Your child will feel more ready and able to spread their wings if they know that you are confident in their ability to fly. Yes, they may stumble and fall along the way, but trust that you have given them all the skills necessary to succeed on their own. Point out the things that your child does really well outside of the realm of academics. Praise your child for the type of person they have become, what a good friend they are, or their positive decision making skills. The more you can verbalize your confidence in their social-emotional skill sets, the better they will be able to internalize that confidence.