Thinking & Learning

Transitioning to Further Education

As parents, we hear a lot about preparing our children to apply to college and get into college. But what happens next? Of course, your new adult probably wants ownership and independence when it comes to their educational journey—as they should. But what can families do to make sure they’re supported and ready to thrive?

Unfortunately, many students get lost in the gap between acceptance letters and the first day of classes (and even more between their first year and graduation). How can you make sure your adult-ish child makes the leap to the next phase of education successfully?

Help your child avoid “summer melt”—and be better prepared to thrive once they get to school:

1

Connect with their high school guidance counselor before graduation. Your kid won’t have the benefit of a guidance counselor over the summer, so the next-best thing is to take their wisdom on the go. Ask your child to sit down with their counselor before the school year wraps up to make a plan for everything that needs to happen between now and college. (You might choose to be part of this conversation or not.)

2

Look into fee waivers for any deposits. Students who receive financial aid might be eligible for discounts or fee waivers on deposits for things like enrollment or housing. These waivers might not be advertised as part of their aid package, so make sure to check with the financial aid office about what might be available.

3

Make a summer to-do list. There are a lot of little things that need to be done between high school graduation and the first day of classes. (Hopefully, your child will talk about many of these things with their guidance counselor in the meeting we just suggested.) These might include meeting deadlines for various forms and payments. And students might need to make selections related to living arrangements, work-study programs, courses, and many other things. As a parent, you aren’t expected to know what all those to-do items are, but it can still be helpful to sit down with your kid at the start of summer and make a list together. Go through the materials they’ve received from school and note down upcoming deadlines and what you’ll need to do. If you or your child has questions about important issues like financial aid, it’s better to identify them now than at the start of the new school year.

4

Connect with an adult or older student in the program ahead of time. Okay, your new-adult-child might be mortified if you email one of their future professors. (Don’t do that.) But connecting with someone in their program before move-in day can be a nice way to bridge the gap between home and school. Encourage your kid to figure out the right person: Is there an older student who graduated from their high school a few years back? Will they have a dean of students, or a resident advisor? If your child isn’t traveling far and there are opportunities to visit campus ahead of time, try to take advantage of those, too. This is also a great time to connect with someone in the financial aid or admissions office. This will ensure that your child has a relationship with a knowledgeable person who will be able to answer their questions as they complete the enrollment process. 

5

Make them practice Adulting 101. Does your kid know how to do their own laundry? Feed themselves without starting a fire in the microwave? (Microwaves aren’t allowed in dorm rooms, by the way.) Make and follow a budget that includes hidden costs like late-night snacks and transportation? If not, the summer before college is the right time to make them learn, so they don’t get stumped by the washing machine when they first hit campus.

6

Look for sources of support in advance. College can be overwhelming for anyone, and students who are the first in their families to attend are at higher risk than others for “summer melt,” and for dropping out once they start. It can be helpful to identify a support network in advance, so your child knows where they can turn for assistance if they need it. This might include their college’s financial aid office, counseling services, or the office of accessibility. And many schools now also have an office dedicated to supporting first-generation and low-income college students. Beyond that, cultural houses and affinity groups can be great sources of community. On the academic side, research shows that new students can get easily discouraged in introductory-level courses that might feel much more challenging than their high school work, which in turn puts them at risk for dropping out. Talk to your new college student about identifying sources for academic support before they need it.

Students who will be living at home while studying are at higher risk for not finishing school, compared to students who live on campus. If that's your child, there are particular things you can do to help support them.

Here are some things families with commuter students should try:

1

Make a plan for how they'll connect socially at school. One of the biggest reasons commuter students leave college at higher rates than residential students is that they miss out on a “sense of belonging.” Simply put, it can be harder to feel connected to the campus community when you’re not living in it. If your child will be living at home while studying, help them figure out a plan to connect with their campus community. This might include meeting with their college’s office of commuter services (or whatever their college calls it) to find out what activities and supports are available. Students might be interested in joining clubs connected to their interests or getting involved in affinity groups they identify with. It might sound frivolous, but socializing on campus is a big part of making students feel like they belong. 

2

Set reasonable expectations for how they'll balance home and school. If your child will still have family responsibilities while they’re studying, how will those be balanced with their academic responsibilities and with opportunities to connect socially at college? Do they have a dedicated study space? If they’re contributing financially at home, are their incidental school expenses—like books and reasonable social outings—also accounted for? Talking through all these issues (and others that might be relevant for your family) in advance can help your child avoid feeling overwhelmed or anxious about balancing the demands of home and school.