What Students and Parents Need to Know About the Transition from High School to College

For students and their parents, transitioning from high school to college is major shift that both have to adjust to and navigate through. Whether or not a student is going to a two-year or a four-year college, or staying home or going away, the transition to any college requires the same strategies to ensure success. Here are three tips for both students and parents to consider as they are preparing for college life.

Students drive; parents assist

Students: You are in the driver seat for this ride. You set the destination and can change it as often as you’d like to find the path worth taking. Just like driving without navigation, going to college without an idea of what you want could easily make you feel lost and confused on how to approach classes. You won’t get everything right the first or the second or even the third try, but this is the time in your life where you’re figuring it out. Use the resources provided to you to explore your interests and always ask for help when you need it.

Parents: You are the passenger. You are allowing your student to make decisions that are best for them with your informed support. Your student is entering adulthood and will only learn their responsibilities if given the chance to take them on. You have to be okay with allowing your student to drop the ball from time to time because they are learning what it’s like to be in charge of themselves. While this will feel uneasy for a while, give your student the space to fail, and be there for them when they ask for help to push through.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Students: College is new territory, and as such, it requires new ways of exploring. While it may be intimidating, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Remember that you aren’t the only new person on campus, and there are more people in your shoes than you know. Use that to your advantage, and step outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to make new friends, join clubs, explore the neighboring community, and more. Stay open-minded and try new things from study habits, to food, to types of classes, to hobbies. College is about learning yourself and what you like and what you don’t like.

Parents: Stay open-minded about your student’s goals. They will change throughout their college career and it’s your job to push their thinking. While you may be used to being there for them every step of the way, let go of some old habits, and let your student navigate this new part of their life. You might have an idea of what you want them to do, but give them the space to explore their interests. Although this may be uncomfortable for you, it allows for your student to confidently find their own path without constantly having eyes watching over their shoulders.

Understand your financial options

Students: Know the difference between free money (grants), money you have to pay back (loans), and money you have to earn (work study). Thoroughly read through your financial award letter and start with accepting all your free money–grants and scholarships! Talk over any loans that you get with your counselor and parents. If you are planning on taking out loans, start with the subsidized loan since it doesn’t accrue interest until after you graduate. The financial aid office is another great place to to get to know folks and advocate for more money if need be. Ask for how you can maximize your work study on campus, qualify for more subsidized rather than unsubsidized loans, and get a list of scholarships to apply to.

Parents: Just like the rest of their college experience, your student owns the financial responsibility.  You can help out as much as you’re able to, but make sure that your student understands this new found responsibility. Talk them through what it means to have a loan in their name, go with them to meet with the financial aid office, and help them find jobs on or off campus. Help them fill out their FAFSA and Dream Act applications–this doesn’t mean that you’re financially responsible, but it helps their school know how much money to give to your student. If you’re able to, help your student with some of the hidden costs such as books, supplies, and dorm room essentials. Whatever you’re able to contribute will definitely be appreciated.

In addition to filling out the FAFSA and the California Dream Act, be sure to check out these scholarships/resources:

College Greenlight– list of scholarships for AB540/undocumented students

Chamber of Commerce: Best College Scholarships 2019

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Ashley Terry

Ashley Terry

Ashley Terry, raised in the East Bay Area, received her Bachelor's degree in Africana Studies from Barnard College of Columbia University in 2015. She currently works at her alma mater, The Bay School of San Francisco in college counseling, supporting students and parents through the college process. Through her work, she hopes to cultivate change within her students and through her written work.

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