Five ways to prepare for the transition to college

When I graduated from Colorado Academy in 2001, the end came fast. Graduation excitement was followed by graduation parties, many plates of finger food at each stop, conversations with teachers, gulps of lemonade, and hot summer days where I found myself too often back on campus, holding on but trying to let go. I waited anxiously to find out who my college roommate at Sarah Lawrence would be, talked to her once to sort out the important stuff—I would bring the dorm room rug, she a window fan—and mailed her a carefully chosen photo of myself, so she would know who I was on move-in day. Those were simple times. CA parents I meet share similar memories as we let out a collective sigh of nostalgia.

For Seniors transitioning to college in 2019, the world is knocking at their door even before they collect their diplomas. Some have already been to first-year orientation, been assigned an academic advisor, emailed professors, and signed up for placement testing. They’ve chosen their dorms, met future classmates, and even networked with alumni. The message I gather is that very little has to be uncertain about going to college anymore. In reality, however, everything is unknown, everything will be new, and most of college and life is still…uncertain.

So how can our Seniors get into the right mindset to transition to college with confidence? I think there are five steps they can take, starting today:

Say Goodbye, For Now: Thank everyone. Talk to your teachers and coaches, your advisors, and deans. Hug your younger castmates and teammates. Impart to them what wisdom you can. Take a long walk around campus to see your Sixth Grade classroom and your Ninth Grade locker. Remember those sunny days in May when you and your classmates would chase crickets all the way down the path to Woody’s Pond. Let the memories from Interim and Giant Relay Day surface and stick. Know that we will always welcome you back.

Spark Joy: What are the building blocks of your new life? We hope you have yet to discover most of them but are eager to begin the journey. Clear your calendar. Let go! Now, add back the joy: what do you really enjoy thinking about and doing? Where do you land when you wander freely? What hobbies and interests will never end up on your resume? Colorado has a lot of summer parks and recreation programs that can help you find the spark you need. Don’t forget to cherish friends and family and the times you feel joy doing absolutely nothing!

Practice Adulting: In his recent New York Times article, “How to Cure the New Senioritis? Make Yourself Your Senior Project,” Ned Johnson recommends that graduates make a list of skills they need to acquire and dive in. Think: changing a tire, roasting chicken, or even sewing on a button. As parents, we need to help our children practice adulting as well. When you’re tempted to swoop in, step back. Wait to see what happens. Dr. Jessica Dolgan, a local clinical psychologist who speaks at CA on occasion, recommends that parents begin to act more passive. Young adults will search for the answers that aren’t handed to them.

Go All In: You’ve bought the T-shirt and learned the fight song. Now it’s time to go all in at your chosen school, own it all—the unusual traditions, eclectic peers, long plane rides, quirky professors, average dining options, the good and the bad. In reality, your perfect college will never be perfect. As a recent CA alumna told Juniors and Seniors, “You choose something, and you just go for it. Go 100 percent in. Whatever college you choose. It will be awesome.”

Do You: As we say around the College Counseling Office, You Do You! When you get to college, devour the course catalog and take classes that you were never offered in high school. Your major is usually only one-third of your entire coursework. What else do you want to learn? Remember that it’s common for college students to change majors multiple times before graduation. (Ask any adult about their major and how it connects to their later professional pursuits—you’ll be shocked!) In terms of clubs and extracurriculars, the sky’s the limit. Speaking to Juniors and Seniors, a young CA alumna noted that, “At the club fair, you’ll sign up for everything and go to nothing! But try something new.”

Throughout college, I continued to return to Colorado Academy as a volunteer and teaching assistant with Horizons at CA, which launched my career in education and ultimately brought me home to our community last year. My college roommate visits often and chases my toddlers around our park. Everything worked out just right. (She loved the rug.)

College is best with dose of uncertainty, a lot of freedom, and equal heaps of sweat and heart. I encourage you to show your student how they can embrace their own adventure.