Skip to main content

The Transition to College

… a time of change for students and parents

Junghee Park-Adams, Ph.D.

The time has finally arrived and your son or daughter is entering college. This is a time of change, both exciting and intimidating. Most of you are probably experiencing a whole range of emotions: pride, anxiety about your child's well-being, or loneliness now that he or she is moving on. All of these feelings are natural and your son or daughter is probably experiencing many of the same feelings.

For many students, entering college symbolizes the beginning of adulthood. The first-year student must become increasingly self-motivated and self-disciplined - learning how to manage time and finances, making decisions, balancing academic demands with social involvements, and coping with the stress of a new environment full of unknown people and expectations.

Most students handle this transition well, enjoying their newly found freedom, balancing it with an increased sense of responsibility. You may discover that your child calls or visits home less often as the school year progresses. This may represent emotional distancing, but it also is a natural and necessary part of the growth process: a sign of increasing self-reliance. Many first-year students also experience some degree of anxiety about being away from home and about their abilities to succeed at UC San Diego. It is during these times of uncertainty that you are most likely to hear from your child. Thus, you may be receiving mixed messages from your son or daughter. One week it's, "I'm fine, Mom and Dad, stop treating me like a child. Don't worry, I can take care of myself," and the next week they call you feeling homesick, worried about a class, or needing more money because they didn't pace themselves. These mixed messages may leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and concerned enough to want to step in, take control, and solve the problem yourself.

What can you do? Be calm and supportive. Accept and understand that the inconsistent messages that you are receiving are a reflection of their growth process. Listen, offer advice only when explicitly asked, express confidence in your son's/daughter's abilities and encourage him/her to continue taking responsibility. Your availability and reassurance can encourage a greater sense of inner security.

Of course, you still have the needs and rights of a parent, including the right to set certain limits, if necessary, and also to ask about how he/she is faring - academically, socially, financially, and emotionally. As parents, you might be especially sensitive to signs that something is amiss. If you sense something is wrong - you observe or hear about a change in mood or behavior - check it out. Ask about it, offer support, and, if necessary, suggest support options here on campus, whether it be from the Residential Life Office, OASIS, Psychological and Counseling Services, faculty, or college staff.

Once again, this is a time of change for your entire family and, consequently, in the way you relate to each other. Give yourself time. Don't be surprised by your reactions, take good care of yourself, and seek support from family, friends, and others. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Going to college is a time of greater individuation and a chance to develop a richer, more mature, and rewarding relationship with your daughter or son.