Making the transition

The start of the academic year brings about transitions for students and parents alike. Whether your Wheaton student is your first to go to college or their departure from home makes you an “empty-nester,” your life and theirs is much different than it was just a few weeks ago.

Transitions and life changes are vital to the human experience and becoming a college student, or a parent of one, is no different. Maybe homework starts to build up and they feel overwhelmed. Perhaps the honeymoon is over with their roommate. Or they simply get sick. While many of these things happened when they were at home with you, it can feel different and more serious now that they are away at college. If you do a web search on “college transitions” there will be no shortage of articles and research studies that all essentially say the same thing: this is all normal!

Research suggests that the decisions your student makes in the first six weeks of college, especially those around challenging transitions, will be a determining factor whether they graduate from college. While they are learning to navigate what it means academically to be a college student they are also learning what it means to be a member of the community outside the classroom. The  article College as Practice for Life, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago, talks about the value of learning outside the classroom and how important experience and engagement with the campus can be.

Our approach is to provide support and guidance the entire first semester and beyond should they need help with these transitional issues. We find that most issues and challenges can be solved with a multifaceted approach of staff/faculty assistance, parental guidance and even voices from some of our older students who have been there and done that! Should your student be faced with challenges we ask you to take a deep breath and encourage them to persist through the challenge. We find that often a good night sleep, a talk with you and some encouragement that they can do it are all they need to see the issue or challenge from a different perspective.

This fall is an especially exciting one for us here at Wheaton. We have a larger class of new students than ever before and with that excitement may also come some challenges. We are prepared to meet those challenges, and with a little help from you, your students can be, too. While adjusting to living in a residence hall and sharing space with others maybe one of those challenges, it can also be exciting.

Should your student be having difficulty with their schedule and getting what they need–whether it be in the food line, showers– suggest that they talk to their RA or Preceptor about strategies to navigate the situation. Once their schedules get settled and routines are formed, all of this becomes part of the pattern of living on a college campus.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for them is often the opposite of your initial instincts. We understand that you love your student and want the best for him or her. We do, too! In many instances, the best thing for you to do as the parent of a college student is to listen to your young adult’s problem compassionately, then ask them what they could do to make the situation better. We recognize that some problems are more serious than others, but empowering your student to develop a plan of action, rather than taking action for them, will pay enormous dividends for them now and in the future.

Dean of Students Kate Kenny