The first year of college is one of the most memorable times in a young adult’s life, as it is often a first glimpse of freedom and independence. They’re exposed to a wealth of knowledge through their academics, and develop some of their closest friendships. However, the first year of college can also be overwhelming for some, and without the right preparation from both kids and parents, college can be a stressful time. Below are some tips to prepare your teen for college success, making the adjustment to college life easier, safer and far more enjoyable.

  • Start with a conversation. It’s important to have a conversation before your child leaves for college on expectations and risks. There are wonderful and difficult aspects of college, and it’s important to be honest with your child about the full reality of what to expect, from challenging courses to cafeteria food to romantic relationships. You know your child best and can talk to them about what will change when it comes to time management, stress or finding the right resources.
  • Find resources on campus. Once you arrive on campus and settle in, take your child to the Student Center, Health Center or Disability Services to make sure they know exactly where they can go for helpful resources regarding their academics or health. Once you’ve left, your child should feel comfortable asking for help from the college, if they need it.
  • Encourage a balance of socialization and solitude. When a student first arrives on campus, the orientation alone can make an incredible difference in their experience. Encourage your child to socialize with their classmates, get involved with their favorite clubs, sports and other activities as soon as they arrive. Making friends can decrease feelings of loneliness or homesickness and help a student develop their first support system. Conversely, it’s important to also emphasize self-care and solitude, by taking moments alone to relax through practices like meditation, yoga or simply taking a walk around campus. These activities can do wonders for stress relief.
  • Schedule your next visit before you leave. If your child already misses you, make sure to plan the next time you’ll see one another before you part. Having a date set in the future reassures kids that no matter what happens at school, they can look forward to seeing family again soon. Check in a week after school starts on FaceTime or Skype to see how things are going.
  • Make time for “the talk.” If you haven’t already, make time to have conversations about sex and sexual health. Though these topics can be uncomfortable to discuss, it is vital that your child feel comfortable enough to talk to you or their pediatrician about their sexual health. Make an appointment for your child to talk confidentially with their pediatrician about their sexual health before school starts, so any questions can be answered. Be as frank as you can about the fact that they may be making decisions regarding sex during college.
  • Give adequate warning for drugs and alcohol. Though it may not seem like it sometimes, kids do listen to their parents, so the warnings you communicate with them about drugs and alcohol aren’t going unnoticed. Be honest about the potential of exposure to drugs and alcohol, and strongly encourage them to use caution around both. Drugs and alcohol are easy to overuse and abuse in college, and could have negative effects on one’s social and academic life. Encourage responsible drinking and practice building their confidence in saying no to drugs. Thinking through situations like these together can make a huge difference when they are confronted by it alone. Remember, safety and fun aren’t mutually exclusive. 


Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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