Leaving the nest

Support your child who is embarking out into the world of academia

By Barbara Pierce

The first year of college is hard — really hard.

It’s hard because nobody cares. You’re on your own.

“That nobody cares was without a doubt the hardest thing for me to learn,” says Marisa Wood online. “I was so accustomed to having my teachers, parents, and peers there for me, always willing to help me and support me in every way. In college, if you don’t show up for class, nobody cares. If you get sick, nobody cares. If you don’t study for your exams, nobody cares.”

It’s hard because you have to take care of yourself.

Classes are hard and the workload is heavy.

It’s a lot different from high school in many ways. As they begin college, each student tests his or her resilience and ability to cope on their own. Even good students from supportive families can become unmoored in college. Students who sailed through high school can run into serious problems beginning college.

Yes, absolutely — beginning college is stressful,” said Alison Franklin, director of counseling, Utica College.

“Any transition brings with it some pressure and tension, and the transition to college is no different,” said David Walden, counseling center director at Hamilton College, Clinton.

We asked these experts what parents and students should do to prepare for a successful first year.

Talk about what to expect with your child beforehand: “Have a conversation about what to expect,” advised Franklin.

“Talk before that transition to college and process the kind of relationship they want to have heading into this new time in their lives,” Walden said. “While those visions may not always match, it can be so helpful for both parents and students to know what the other wants in terms of things like how often they want to talk and what level of support they want.”

Talk about the challenges that he or she may face. Let your child know that things will get tough; encourage resilience and perseverance.

When challenges arise, help them figure it out.

“Part of the value of the transition into college is that students are now in a more adult role, and have the opportunity to learn how to take care of themselves,” said Walden.

“Your student will inevitably call you seeking help with a problem. Instead of fixing it for them, you’ll have the chance to help them figure out how they want to deal with it,” he said. “We all deal with things differently and it can be a real gift to help someone learn how to deal with life’s challenges.”

Ask open-ended questions to help them figure out how to move forward, such as, “What do you think you should do?” Then support that solution.

We all learn better when we figure things out for ourselves, instead of someone handing us the solution.

Encourage your child to identify where to go on campus for support. It’s important that students do this themselves. Taking charge of their own college experiences provides students a great opportunity to become more independent.

Seek out resources

Helpful resources may include the counseling center, financial aid officers, academic advisers, health services, clubs, recreational facilities, and religious organizations.

Talk about how important it is for your student to take care of their mental health.

Wood advises students: “Make sure to allow time in your hectic schedule for some ‘me time’ and take a few hours a week to do something you love. Feeling stressed? Check out your school’s counseling services and make an appointment. Trust me, talking to an unbiased counselor is one of the best stress relievers. And no, it doesn’t make you crazy.”

Hamilton and Utica colleges both have counseling available for students.

Hamilton College offers a wide array of wellness-based services, including group therapy, and meetings with staff or peer counselors. Counselors are available at any time for crisis, 24/7, on campus or off.

Licensed counselors staff the counseling center at Utica College and are always on call for a crisis.

Both colleges find that increasing numbers of students are taking advantage of their counseling services.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of students coming to us since I began in 2014,” said Franklin.

“The number of college students utilizing college counseling centers has increased dramatically over the last five to seven years, and Hamilton is part of that trend,” said Walden.

Nationwide, the number of college students seeking counseling and the severity of their concerns has dramatically increased, so much so that many call it a manifestation of a mental health crisis.

If you have mental health concerns about your child, connect him or her to treatment.

“One in five children aged 13-18 experience a serious mental health disorder,” said Franklin. “If you have concerns about your child, let us know before they begin college. We can look out for them. Make sure your child knows how to connect with us.”