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What all freshman (and their parents) should know about entering higher ed.

A Parent's Education For College

"A Parent's Education for College"

The first year of college is similar to the first year of life.  The developmental tasks of the infant and the college freshman are similar in several ways:  both will leave the comfort of their homes to live on their own.  Neural growth, connectivity and neural reduction will occur respectively in an infants and an eighteen year old's brain.   In order to successfully respond to new enviormental demands and stresses adaptability and flexibility are required by both.  However, there is one major difference; you will not be going with them!

Childhood offers many opportunities for both parents and children to practice separation and individuation.   With each successful milestone a child develops a deeper level of confidence and independence.    In turn parents feel reassured that their children are developing the necessary skills to become self reliant.  This alone may not be enough for some adolescents to be able to make the successful transition to college. How can you tell if your child is at risk and what steps can be taken to ensure a successful transition?

Children who received educational or psychological services throughout high school are at risk.  In addition, children with poor organizational skills, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders such as depression or drug and alcohol abuse. Often these students have functioned in high school with academic support and parental guidance, but if enrolled in a college without sufficient academic support and structure, the results could be disappointing.  Failing grades, unanswered phone calls, isolation, changes in behavior, reluctance to discuss grades, use of alcohol and drugs should be red flags to parents that danger is ahead. 

Parents may feel surprised when they find out their child is having difficulty transitioning into college.  Parents who were once privy to information from high school principals and teachers no longer have that opportunity in college.  Parents may respond by feeling anxious, angry, disappointed, guilty and resentful.   Your child may also experience feelings of self-doubt, guilt, and disappointment or even apathy and detachment. Many families could avoid financial hardships and emotional turmoil by taking an “honest look” at the needs of their child and their concerns as parents.

What steps should a parent and child take to prepare for a successful transition?

1.    Prepare children to be their own educational advocate. They need to know:  the names and nature of their disabilities, the federal and state statutes that protect people with disabilities from discrimination and be capable of speaking to professors and administrators about their concerns and needs.

2.    Choose the right fit. Your child will thrive, succeed and graduate from college if the college they attend understands their individuality, strengths and weaknesses.  A poor fit could result in your child dropping out within two semesters.

3.    Understand the 5 different levels of support programs.   Comprehensive support programs, limited support services, developmental programs, colleges specializing in learning disabilities (Beacon College, Florida, Landmark College, Vermont) and colleges that are totally oblivious.  Carefully look over the different programs and feel free to contact the special education coordinator at the college for future information.

4.    Academic difficulties.  Areas of concern:  organization of time, reading, mathematics, note taking, writing reports, verbal skills, and foreign languages.

5.    Learn about accommodations.  Proper planning and knowledge about accommodations can make your child’s transition to college a successful one.

6.    Emotional difficulties.   Students who are frustrated academically and socially can develop anxiety and depression which can result in feelings of hopelessness; it is well documented that stress can result in depression and anxiety.  Choose a college with an excellent student mental health program.  A college should take the mental health needs of their students seriously and responds in a timely and responsible manner. A good mental health service should have programs and surveys in place to assess students in need, brochures and information easily accessible, clear procedures and protocols for different situations, sufficient staffing, communication procedures, a psychiatrist on 24 hour call, available appointment times and an established crisis intervention program.

7.    Clear parental expectations. Make sure your child understands what your expectations are regarding drinking and drug usage.

8.    Permission forms and insurance. Have your child sign a form that will give you permission to speak to college professors, administrators and mental health professionals.  Without your child’s expressed permission the college is not allowed by law to release any confidential information about your child.  You will not receive failure warnings or grades as you once did in high school. If your child refuses to sign a release form reconsider paying for college.  Purchase a tuition reimbursement insurance policy.

9.    Trust your own judgment.  You know your child better then any one else.  Don’t second-guess yourself; if your child has not successfully adjusted to college after two semesters consider having them take a leave of absence to assess the problem.

©2009 Wanda Behrens Horrell, All Rights Reserved

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