Parent College Coach Tip #34: Talk About Transitioning to College

transitioning to collegeWhen I read this article in Inside Higher Ed, I would like to say I was shocked. Upset and saddened, but not shocked. Here’s an excerpt but you should read the entire article:

“At least eight freshmen at U.S. colleges have died in the first few weeks of this school year. The deaths have cast a shadow over the campuses on which the students spent too little time, but they’re also a cross-section of the kinds of issues and decisions facing freshmen as they begin their college careers — and of the choices some young students may not be prepared to make. Even colleges with the best approaches to educating students about mental health issues may have very little time to reach those who may be vulnerable.”

The harsh reality is that college is a “safe haven” for this type of risky behavior. Whether you believe it or not, every school is a party school. Students who have lived at home in a structured environment are overwhelmed with the openly free college campus with no accountability. Add to that the greek culture which often incorporates drinking into their rush events.

Not only is it an authority free environment, it is a stressful environment as well. Students feel the pressure to succeed, make new friends, and adjust to a new academic environment. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for college students and is more prevalent than alcohol poisoning.

What can parents do?

Talk to them about transitioning to college. No child is immune from this type of risky behavior. Even the most responsible student gets caught up in the peer pressure and the pressure surrounding college expectations. We can talk until we are blue in the face warning them about the dangers, telling them we love them and only want them to do their best. But once they are away from home, the other influences often take over.

Parents should do more than talk about the dangers—they should help their students know what to do in the event they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Students should know the signs of alcohol poisoning. They should know who to call and what to do if they see a student in distress. They should know what to do if someone appears suicidal—who to tell and how to help. And most importantly, they should know that they can call you anytime and not be condemned or judged if they slip into risky behavior and need help.

Alcohol is readily available, especially to freshmen who consider it an “initiation” into adulthood to get when their parents aren’t a factor and they are free to abuse without repercussions. Sticking your head in the sand won’t help you or your student. Discuss the “what ifs” before freshman year.

Author: Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer advises parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation at She is excited to share her knowledge with the readers of Smart College Visit.

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