Ever discover something about your kid that you never noticed and feel like you have been asleep at the parenting wheel for 20 years?

This happened to me recently when my oldest graduated from college and started looking for a “real, adult job.” She is a kid who seems to have transitioned smoothly from high school to her freshman year and throughout college as she prepared (and couldn’t wait!) to be on her own: A full-fledged-paying-all-the-bills-living-large adult!

When she confessed that she was having issues with the transitions out of college to life on her own, I asked myself “Who is this kid?” She had often displayed a “Well, I will just deal with it” attitude and rarely ever wallowed in disappointment for very long.

Well, it didn’t take long before she shared all the times that she had, in fact, struggled a bit moving from one phase of her life into the next. Had I been aloof? It is quite possible that I didn’t notice or that she did her best to get through it with minimal complaint. Either way, it didn’t make me feel better about what I missed and what I could have done better to help her recognize when a transition was coming and how to prepare for it.

So I spent some time thinking about how I have built a career on helping students, first-years specifically, with the initial adjustment to college, but I have failed to look beyond that one semester to really thinking through how each semester, year, or phase could bring even more change–and a little more anxiety–that young people will go through. Thus, I decided to share with you those points in your student’s life where doubt and uncertainty can pop up, potentially tripping up even the most academically-prepared, even-keeled, self-assured student.

The more you know, right?

High school to college. This is where I have spent most of my professional life, so I can wax on about all the ups and downs of new college students. I will be brief, then, on the biggest issues that these students face:

  • Managing time, using a planner, completing work with few reminders.
  • Studying effectively, not cramming, using study buddies.
  • Making new friends and keeping old ones.
  • Asking for help, talking with professors, getting to know classmates.

First year to second. Once students get the first year under their belts, they should steel themselves for a few of the following:

  • Choosing a major or changing a major (very common for students to change multiple times).
  • Digging in to work harder as the courses get more intense.
  • Getting involved in activities, events, and organizations (a must!).

Second to third. While many students report that they have an easier time when they start taking their major courses, there are still transition issues that come up that they can prepare for:

  • Getting work experience through a part-time job or internship.
  • Deciding to study abroad or take on a research project.
  • Considering their options are after graduation–graduate or professional school? a job? a special experience such as the Peace Corps or teaching English abroad?
  • Looking for those special experiences that will help them stand out when they graduate.

Final semesters to graduation. This is a key time for students to be both excited and extremely nervous. Many will be glad to be finished with college, but others will worry about what they need to do to prepare for life after graduation.

  • Applying for jobs or graduate school and anxiously awaiting news.
  • (If lucky) deciding on the best offer.
  • Taking on more financial responsibilities and decision making. How does one make sense of retirement accounts and health insurance options?

Graduation to first job. If your student has landed a job after college, then it may feel like your work is done. That is not usually the case, though! Here are some other transitional issues they may face.

  • Experiencing “buyer’s remorse” when making what seems like final decisions about where to live and work.
  • Worrying about fitting in or getting “stuck” in a career.
  • Feeling generally dissatisfied with their current situation especially if peers seem to have better pathways.

First job to second job. Even when your student successfully launches into the workplace, the move from a good (or not) job to a better one can bring its own concerns:

  • Second-guessing decision to leave “the known” for the “unknown.”
  • Changes in routine, friend/colleagues, and predictability.

It may seem from this list that you will experience nothing but heartache and grief, and I don’t mean to leave you with that impression. For sure, there will be lots to celebrate. Nothing made me happier than to hear that my oldest won a slot on a research team or found a great internship that would help her figure out what she wanted to do with her life.

But I would be a negligent educator and student success advocate if I didn’t also share that there may be some downs to those ups, and the more prepared both you and your student are, the better you will be able to make it through. All of the issues I have listed above can be worked through with honest conversations and resources, many of which can be found on campus. Just be sure to talk to your student about what they are experiencing and know that you–and they–are not alone during these transitions.

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