4 Ways Your Family Can Make the College Transition Smoothly

Excited. Nervous. Anxious. Sad. Name the emotion and chances are if you or a family member is starting college, you’ve felt it or are feeling it. The transition is fraught with a myriad of emotions for both parents and students alike—and that’s normal! With a little grace and intentionality, your family can ensure this special—albeit emotional—time is one of meaning and growth.

Paul McGinnis is Bethel University’s Vice President of Marketing and Enrollment, and he’s also a dad who has gone through the college transition with his wife and two kids. Speaking from experience, he shares four ways a family can transition to college smoothly.

1. Lean into the change.

Any transition comes with a curve. As you’re getting used to something new, you dip down into the decline, and it’s really emotional. But then you begin to find a new rhythm. You adapt to the new normal, and you breathe easy again—the upward trajectory of the curve. Your posture as you ride the curve makes a big difference. Leaning into it is crucial. This can look different for everybody. For some, this may mean journaling—you can get lots of emotions out onto paper.  For others, it may be something else, but it means embracing all the feelings and allowing yourself to feel them without embarrassment or shame.

2. Surround yourself with sources of encouragement.

You need support! Whether it’s a spouse or a best friend, you need somebody you can share your emotions with, and in return, they’ll tell you it’s going to be OK. Finding people who have been ahead of you—empty nesters who’ve already sent multiple kids off to college or recent college grads, for example—can be really beneficial. This can be as simple as grabbing coffee with someone once a week.

3. Communicate more than you normally do.

Riding the curve is not the time to bottle up your emotions. It really demands more intentional communication and telling those around you what you’re feeling. As parents you have so many questions: Is my child responsible enough? Will she make good decisions? Did we do enough? What if he’s not ready? And as a new student you’re wondering: Can I handle the academics? Am I going to make new friends? Where do I fit in? What if I still miss home? This is why communication is so important. Working through the rollercoaster of emotions associated with these questions can only happen when they’re shared.

4. Realize everyone’s at a difference place and a different pace.

You may still be in the decline of the curve trying to adjust and figure everything out.  Meanwhile your parent, spouse, or child seems to have already found their new groove—they’re already on the upward trajectory. That’s OK and normal. Everyone will be in different places and going at different paces, so giving grace to each other to transition at different speeds is important.

Wherever you’re at on the college transition curve—parent or student—Bethel is ready to help! Welcome Week and Family Weekend offer the whole family a chance to connect with others making the same transition. Moms, dads and family members can also jump on our Quick Connects—short webinars answering questions and giving insight on everything from your child’s spiritual formation to his or her physical safety at Bethel. And students have access to academic support and counseling services as they acclimate to their new course load and college life—in addition to hundred of ways to build community through sports, clubs and other campus activities.