The College Transition: Part 2
What Parents Wish You Knew

Remember how it felt to drop off your student on their first day of kindergarten? How you couldn’t believe your once tiny newborn was putting on an almost-as-big-as-them backpack and walking through those school doors?

And remember when they were in first grade how you looked at those kindergarten parents and knew exactly what they were feeling? Maybe you offered a few sage words of advice, maybe you simply let them experience all the emotions.

Now fast forward 13 years. College drop-off can have that same sense of emotion and excitement. Here’s what experienced parents of college students want you to know:

#1: “I wish we focused more on succeeding during college rather than getting into college.”

From the day that first shiny brochure arrives in the mailbox, it’s all about college admissions. Universities are excellent at marketing towards students and parents. While students are working hard to get in, college are working hard to be #1 on your student’s wish list.

So it makes sense why we focus on getting into college rather than succeeding during college.

But it doesn’t have to be that way in your family. Balance the focus on college admissions with college life. Treat it like a marriage. If you focus on the wedding, the marriage may not be set up for success. Too much focus on the band and boutonnieres and buffet dinner and not enough on communication and shared goals can be hard to overcome.

One small step: Charge your student with gathering maps, university resources and student organizations. Lay it all out and walk through a day in the life. “Ok, so if you live in this dorm and have a class in this building – how do you get there?” “Look at the dining options and see which ones seem convenient based on your schedule. “Take a look at the clubs and list the ones you want to check out!”

#2: “I wish I gave my student more chances to practice handling complex tasks.”

Notice the theme here? Let your student handle it.

Instead of defaulting to taking charge of complicated tasks, involve your student in the process. Let them see the process, the research, the mental gymnastics that you go through to solve tough problems. Don’t present the solution in a neat package but let them see the messy middle so they understand a blueprint of how to solve hard problems.

One small step: The next time your student brings you a complex problem, don’t solve it for them. Ask thought-provoking questions to help them solve it for themselves. Here’s a few questions to get you started:

  • If this situation was happening to a friend, what would you say to them?
  • Think of 5 possible solutions to the problem – it doesn’t matter if they are silly or difficult, just make sure you get to at least 5 solutions.
  • Ok, imagine that you go with solution X. How do you feel now?

#3: “I wish I’d given my student more chances to meet and grow friendships.”

Social life is a huge part of the college experience. Your student will meet roommates, classmates, friends, fellow club members and more. They’ll need to understand how to connect with new people, find common interests and determine who they want to invest in a deeper friendship.

Friendship is so important during these years that I wrote a 4-part series on the blog to help autistic young adults develop lasting friendships. Take a look to build a foundation as you guide your student on finding and keeping friends.

One small step: Ask your student to think of one person they would like to better friends with than they are now. Then ask them to think of ways they could build that friendship and encourage them to follow through.

There you have it – the 3 things veteran college parents wish you knew. Take a moment to think about these lessons and how you can apply them to your family to save yourself the stress and heartache of a difficult college transition.

Next, we’ll discuss what the disability services offices wishes you knew.