Navigating the big decisions together

A college admissions acceptance letter is not an endpoint–rather it is the start of a potentially meaningful journey that lies ahead. Transitioning and adjusting to campus life are often underestimated concepts for many students and even their parents. Many students and their families spend the summer celebrating high school graduation but never consider the big changes ahead for what going to college actually signifies. Yet truth be told, there are some new challenges to encounter in the fall that are not commonly known or discussed.

I frequently like to enlighten clients with insights into college admissions based upon my previous professional experience when being on the other side of the desk. To illustrate how students and their families may work together in order to transition effectively, I recently spoke with an admired and respected admissions colleague, Robert “Bob” Adkins. Bob has over thirty-two years of college admissions experience at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. He currently is their Dean of Admission and has witnessed thousands of incoming freshmen, including his own children, transition to campus life. Bob brings a unique perspective both from an admissions leadership standpoint and as a father of two college students.

When speaking with Bob, he initially told me that if he could go back in time, the following transition advice is what he would have given to his own children before heading off to college:

1) Expect the culture to be different, especially in other parts of country. Something as simple as ordering and eating pizza can be foreign. Bob recommends that in order for students to be prepared for new experiences, they should look at City Guide online (it is a free resource) to become familiar with their future location in terms of its food, culture, and how people spend their weekends in order to embrace these changes in advance. Ideally, it would be helpful if students spend a couple days, especially an overnight stay, during their college visits to experience the local town and its businesses.

2) College freshmen will likely miss family events that they never missed before. Bob pointed out that his daughter is twelve hours away from home and cannot be present for every birthday party or family function. Students should mentally prepare themselves in order to buffer any disappointment or feelings of guilt about missing important moments.

On the other hand, Bob spoke about what parents should prepare for after successfully moving their child on campus:

1) A lack of communication is not a bad thing. As students get more involved in campus life and activities, they will develop a new communication routine. Bob shared that his daughter and mother spoke daily but that changed to once a week once his daughter got settled in and started to become actively involved in campus life. Parents should strive to have their children build independence and utilize campus resources rather than expect them to often call home when they have some free time.

2) Parents also need to let go and let students work through their challenges. Students that solve their own problems and find the right campus resources transition more effectively. Bob discussed that parents should encourage their children to find the appropriate campus personnel to answer their questions rather than having a parent jump in right away to solve any issues that crop up.

3) Parents should encourage academic and social experiences. Students will have new opportunities to grow on a college campus which may lead to new passions. This may mean a new major or career aspiration. Bob explained that many students have thrived when exploring elective classes, performing in theatre programs, and athletic opportunities. Bob pointed out that parents need to be supportive, even when they are surprised when a new change occurs. He understands from a parent perspective that at first it might be disappointing to see that their child has changed majors or even their career path, but he also says that parents need to be realistic and open when their child discovers new interests in college.

From an admissions leadership perspective, Bob recommends that incoming freshmen should do the following:

1) Students still need to communicate with admissions in the summer months. There will be a lot of important emails that students will be receiving this time of the year such as requests for final transcripts, housing information, and orientation. Students need to respond in a timely manner or admissions departments may perceive that they are not planning to attend. Additionally, admissions officials enjoy hearing from students who are excited about campus life ahead and they are equally happy to answer any questions or address any concerns that they may have.

2) Admissions officials are rooting for students’ success. Beginning college life can be intimidating for many. Admissions officials are often students’ first friends on campus as they built a meaningful relationship with them during the recruiting process. Bob suggests that students should maintain this relationship as admission officials are invested in their journeys while on campus. Bob shared that his office has even helped students secure part-time jobs and internships in collaboration with the career advising office.

There is more to successfully transitioning into college life than many students and their families anticipate. Yet if they can discuss these items in advance, a smoother transition can happen on campus for everyone! After all, successfully transitioning and thriving on campus should be the student’s goal after they have diligently completed their college applications!

About the guest coauthor Robert ”Bob” Adkins:

For over thirty years, Bob has proudly served in the admissions department and is currently the Dean of Admission at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. He is also a fellow graduate of the college where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Biology. During his undergraduate studies, he played football and was on the track team. Bob is an active member of many professional organizations such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and he is on the Executive Council for the Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling (PACAC). For more information about Washington and Jefferson College, please visit www.washjeff.edu

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