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The college transition

Your child may be leaving for college or that first apartment to start a new job. Things in your family will be different from that point forward, perhaps even difficult. This can be a big transition for families.

Your child may be leaving for college or that first apartment to start a new job. Things in your family will be different from that point forward, perhaps even difficult. This can be a big transition for families.

Parents can take the lead to help with the transition by  recognizing that home life will be different. So what should parents expect to prepare for in the transition?

  • As you prepare for the departure, don't be surprised if little spats arise that seem out of the ordinary for your family. This is a stressful time for everyone.
  • Teach teens independent-living skills such as how to do laundry, cook, clean and budget money. For example, many of my children's friends had little knowledge of food safety.
  • Your teen may have questions about leaving home, starting college, or their first job. Start discussions early in the process. Don't wait to talk their questions until you are driving away from home.
  • This may be the first time they have a roommate. Discuss ahead of time some scenarios that may occur and possible ways to resolve conflicts.
  • Communicating with texts and video chats can help college students and parents remain in contact. Decide how often you’d like to check in with each other.
  • Social adjustment plays a critical role in student persistence at college. Social media has the potential to positively enhance students’ transition to college by encouraging connection and interaction among peers.
  • Put together a going-away gift and plan to send an occasional care package from home to ease the transition for your child. Gather family photos and send along family contact info. Send your child's new contact information to relatives and friends. Encourage them to write a short note or send a care package to your child. Getting mail was important to my children when they were away from home.
  • The first time your young adult returns home (we refer to it as re-entry), it can seem a little strange. You may have to adjust to playing a different parental role at home.
  • Think about yourself, too, and take this opportunity to try a new hobby or enroll in a class. If you are married, talk about how you feel in this new stage and take some time together as a couple.

For some families, a child leaving home comes easily, but for others it is stressful and creates some conflict. As much as you hope you have prepared your teen, the reality is that some lessons are only gained by leaving home. Parents play a significant and active role in facilitating the transition and preparing for a child to leave home. This does take planning, whether your child is heading off across the country to college or to an apartment across town.

Related resources

Transitioning From High School to College With A Psychiatric Illness: PreparationAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — Explore these important questions and consideration for college life if your teen has mental health issues.

Kathleen A. Olson, Program director with partnering for school success

Reviewed by author.

Reviewed in 2018

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