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The Transition to College: A Guide for Parents

What You Should Know

Because you are concerned about your son or daughter making a successful transition to college, and because your support is a critical factor in that transition, we offer this information regarding what your son or daughter may experience in college and what you can do to help.

Academic Challenges

Your son or daughter will be expected to take responsibility for his or her own learning process. This means going to class, completing complex assignments and keeping up with a vast amount of reading are now up to the student, who is considered an adult in the academic environment. Although students spend less time in class now than in high school, they are expected to complete far more work outside of the classroom.

Learning how to structure time effectively and manage competing priorities in order to step up to these new challenges can be frightening, or even overwhelming, for some students.

What can you do to help academically?

  • Know that it is normal for students to feel anxious at the beginning of their college careers. Listen to their concerns for however long they need to express them. State your confidence in their ability to make it.
  • Make sure that your son or daughter is not working too many hours at a job, as this may interfere with getting their school work done. Going to college should be the primary focus of your son or daughter's life if they are to be successful.
  • Conversely, if it is necessary for your son or daughter to work full-time or close to it, make sure that they are not taking more classes than they can reasonably handle. It is important that you assist your son or daughter in not setting themselves up for academic failure.
  • Let your son or daughter know that they can get assistance with time management, study skills and tutoring at the Samuel Rudin Academic Resource Center (633-2217), a service that many students find helpful.

Separation Anxiety

Although most students are excited about starting college, the prospect of leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of high school friends and family members is frightening for some. The challenge of making new friends and creating a new social life can be daunting, particularly for the student who is shy.

What can you do to help with separation anxiety?

  • Listen to your son's or daughter's concerns and take them seriously. Although separation anxiety does pass, the first few weeks can be intense. Your son or daughter may need a lot of support and reassurance.
  • Encourage your son or daughter to get involved in clubs and other activities at college. To find out more about student clubs and activities, they can call the Office of Student Development at 633-2360.
  • Many Iona students enjoy volunteering for the numerous community projects in which the College is involved. If volunteering is appealing to your son or daughter, encourage them to call the Office of Mission and Ministry at 633-2772.
  • Let them know that they are always welcome at home, but encourage them not to come home every weekend. Help them to focus their attention and energy here at college.
  • Encourage them to let others know they are having a hard time. For example, the Resident Assistant who is assigned to their floor or a staff member in the Office of Student Success can help.
  • If they continue to feel overwhelmed after the first few weeks of college, encourage them to make an appointment at the Counseling Center at 633-2038. Generally after just a few sessions, students come to feel less homesick and more comfortable at college.

Identity Development

During late adolescence, individuals are engaged in the process of forming their own personal identities. This process can include becoming separate persons within the family with regard to creating their own value systems, spiritual beliefs, tastes in clothing, music and friends and making other personal choices. When adolescents make choices that run counter to the values, beliefs and preferences of their parents, this sometimes causes conflict within the family. For many this process of carving out their own identity is an important part of their life-long growth and development. Developing a healthy identity also involves building self-esteem and a sense of personal competence.

What can you do to help with identity development?

  • Be tolerant of lifestyle choices your son or daughter makes so long as they are not clearly self-destructive.
  • Keep criticism to a minimum. Your child needs and craves your approval and acceptance now more than ever, even if he or she seems not to. Be aware that negative words from you are taken very much to heart and that excessive criticism can damage self-esteem.
  • Allow your son or daughter to make mistakes. To err is part of the growing process. Let your child know that you do not consider mistakes to be disastrous and that you have made mistakes too.
  • Give your son or daughter as much freedom as possible, even if that makes you a bit uneasy. We all want to protect our children, but that is not always in their best interest. Going out with friends, staying out late at night, making choices and experiencing natural consequences are all part of the process of growing up.
  • Give your son or daughter "permission" to separate from you. Consider contacting your child less frequently and/or waiting for them to contact you. Holding on too tightly and trying to protect them from life will not help them to become responsible adults or to develop their own sense of competence.

Career Decisions

Your son or daughter may feel pressured to know what they want to major in and what their career path will be as soon as they get here. However, they need time at college to explore different subjects and to be exposed to many career possibilities in order to make a good decision. Making a premature decision about a major or about a career can end up being more costly in the long run.

What can you do to help with career decisions?

  • Be patient, and encourage your son or daughter to take their time, as well.
  • Know that choosing a major and a career path can be a long process that occurs over time.
  • Encourage your son or daughter to take a wide variety of courses and to get involved in college activities.
  • Make your son or daughter aware of the Gerri Ripp Center for Career Development (633-2462), which can be of assistance to them throughout their time at Iona.
  • Let your son or daughter know that their professors are excellent sources of career information, as well as potential mentors.

More Serious Problems

The issues discussed above are all part of the typical developmental process of becoming an adult and making the transition to college life. Below are issues that merit your concern, for which a referral to the Counseling Center or to another mental health agency is advised.

  • Eating disorders: if you suspect your son or daughter currently has an eating disorder, or has had one in the past, please seek help. You should be aware that eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, are among the most potentially fatal of all psychiatric disorders.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse: if your son or daughter has had a history of substance abuse, or if you currently suspect he/she is abusing substances.
  • Depression: a history of depression, a past suicide attempt or your current suspicion that your son or daughter is depressed warrants referral. Symptoms of depression include: sad mood, feelings of hopelessness, not following the usual routine, fatigue, loss of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty making decisions, not caring about anything, social isolation, and thoughts of death and suicide.
  • Involvement in an unhealthy romantic relationship, characterized by constant fighting, conflict, distrust and unhappiness. Any sign of physical violence certainly identifies a relationship as being unhealthy.
  • Self-injurious behavior: a history of cutting or other self-destructive behavior or your suspicion that your son or daughter is currently engaged in self-injury.
  • A history of problems with conduct, accepting limits, aggression or violence. Starting college and its stressors can reactivate or precipitate problems with conduct and aggression. Some signs include: past violent behavior, a preoccupation with violence, making threats of violence, explosive outbursts of anger, extreme social isolation, repeatedly violating the student Code of Conduct, nonparticipation in family or other group activities, odd or disturbing behavior that makes you feel uneasy or even fearful for your own or your child's safety.
  • Other psychiatric disorders: if your son or daughter has had psychiatric disorders in the past or if you believe he/she is developing a disorder, please make a referral. Examples and signs include: extreme anxiety and panic, obsessions or compulsive behavior; extreme social isolation and difficulty relating to peers; odd or bizarre behavior; not making sense, delusions and/or hallucinations; extreme difficulty managing the transition to college.
  • Significant loss or trauma that your son or daughter has experienced, like parental divorce, the loss of a parent, of another relative or of a friend to death; a critically ill family member; a history of physical or sexual abuse; being a victim of a violent crime.

What can you do to help with serious problems?

  • Be supportive of your son or daughter and get them the professional help they need. Usually, people can't just "snap out of" serious problems or get better by just talking it out with friends or family.
  • Be patient. Serious problems can be worked through, but it takes time.
  • Let a professional person at Iona College know that you are worried about your son or daughter, and let us assist you in getting them appropriate help and guidance.
  • If you are concerned that your son or daughter does have a serious psychological problem and you would like to consult about that, please call the Counseling Center at 633-2038.

Resources at Iona College:

Office of Mission and Ministry (914) 633-2632
Counseling Center (914) 633-2038
Gerri Ripp Center for Career Development (914) 633-2462
Health Services (914) 633-2548
Office of Residential Life (914) 633-2336
Office of Student Development (914) 633-2360
Office of Student Success (914) 633-2270
Samuel Rudin Academic Resource Center (914) 633-2217