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How Can I Help My Child Transition From High School to College?

The transition from high school to college can be a stressful experience, for both young adults and parents. Clinical Psychologist Debby Fogelman offers practical ways that parents can help their college-aged children prepare for their new experience on a college campus. 

Although college is often an exciting time, it can also be a time that comes with a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. Which is normal! Being away from home can sometimes create a false belief that they are inadequate and unable to succeed. These irrational beliefs can make any person vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Here are 15 ways you can help your child prepare for the transition from high school to college (Newman, 2018).

  1. Try and set realistic expectations about the challenges that they might face. This is helpful in normalizing associated feelings of self-doubt that they will certainly experience during this new stage. For example, if your child was able to coast by in high school and didn’t have to put in much effort, it’s important to alert them about what is to come. College brings more difficult academic demands that can surprise many freshman and leave them feeling discouraged. 
  2. Going off of that, since it’s normal to have passing feelings of self-doubt, it’s important to explain to them that a feeling is not evidence of reality. Within this same category it is important to explain to your child to try and not give into the tendency to make comparisons as a way to feel more secure.
  3. Stress in college is a given. However, it can be managed by implementing self-care, healthy eating habits, plentiful sleep, and engaging in some form of exercise or other stress-relieving activities. 
  4. All-or-nothing thinking can be magnified under stress. In a college setting, this might mean that students see one disappointing grade and then conclude that they are a complete failure. Remind them that it takes time to master skills! 
  5. Along those same lines, it might be important to remind them that grades are not a measure of self-worth or potential. Some people are just better test-takers than others. What is important is that they are working with ethic, integrity, and giving it their all. Those are traits that are more predictive of success.
  6. Disappointments are going to happen. You can help your child by encouraging them to pay attention to certain self-talk conversations they have. For example, words like “never” and “always” are not helpful as these words can cause anxiety. 
  7. “Limitations and disappointments are not the same as failures and flaws” (Newman, 2018). Even the most accomplished person is not good at everything!
  8. Talk to your child about how avoidance, even when they feel stressed, is not a helpful strategy to use. Although it may bring temporary relief, it is going to cause more stress in the long run. 
  9. Doing something new is scary for a lot of people. Even if others aren’t showing it on the outside, they are also likely feeling the same emotions you are. Caution your children not to jump to conclusions that there is something wrong because others appear confident, happy, and adjusting because chances are, they also have struggles. 
  10. Learning assertiveness skills is helpful in college. For example, when a roommate oversteps a boundary or disregards their feelings, teach your child that it is best to address the issue sooner rather than later. That is when resentment can set in. The use of “I” statements rather than “you” statements is helpful in these situations. 
  11. Procrastination can be a red flag of feeling overwhelmed or fearing failure. Suggest to your child to try and break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. 
  12. Problem-solving skills are also useful tools to gain during college. This can include recommending your child to think about having a “Plan B” in mind when things don’t go the way they expect.
  13. Although social media can be a helpful way to connect with others, it can also cause a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Remind your child that the images posted on social media are usually carefully selected to portray a certain “lifestyle” and often aren’t reality. 
  14. There is no shame in needing extra support during stressful times, especially during college. Talk to them about options they might have to get extra support, including going to the college-counseling center.
  15. Help your child to learn to laugh at themselves, instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed. None of us are perfect!

If you would like additional support from a professional counselor during this transition, we’re here to help. Contact Symmetry Counseling to arrange an appointment for family therapy in Chicago


Newman, S. (2018, July 2). 15 Tips to Ease the Transition From High School to College 

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