Updated: May 9, 2022
Academic and residential skills are frequently talked about in conversations about how to prepare our students for college. But students with mental health challenges may need extra support and additional conversations about what to expect and how to prepare for the emotional aspects of transitioning to college.
My personal experience coaching college students as well as current research reveals that many students do not feel emotionally prepared for the college transition. In this recent study, 60% of students wish they had gotten more help preparing emotionally for college.
Emotional preparedness was defined as "...the ability to take care of oneself, adapt to new environments, control negative emotions and/or behavior and build positive relationships – is a major factor to students’ success during their first year of college.."
How can we equip students to handle the emotional transition to college?
1. Review Current Supports
I recommend that families and school teams have a discussion during junior and senior year about the socio-emotional supports that are currently being provided both inside and outside of school. You should ask questions such as:
Does your student receive 30 minutes of support from their school social worker?
Do they meet 2x weekly with the school psychologist?
Does your student meet with a therapist and/or psychiatrist outside of school?
Identifying the current level of support is an important place to begin a conversation about support in the future.
Will your student's mental health change in the next 1-2 years? Probably.
Is mental health a tricky thing to predict in general? Absolutely! But reviewing your student's current support plan is a great place to start.
2. Research Mental Health Supports at Prospective Colleges
Whether your student is considering attending a community college, four year university or taking 1-2 online classes while working, mental health supports can play a significant factor in your families' college decision.
I recommend that students research and connect with the mental health supports that are provided on each campus they are considering applying to.
PARENT TIP: Families, ask your students to use the college website to research counseling supports, physical health and wellness offices, and disability support offices as well. Have your student record the information they find in the checklist below.
A WORD OF CAUTION; College websites are usually monitored and managed by an information technology department, a department who is not necessarily familiar with all of the department supports. Websites can be incomplete, minimal or in a worst case scenario, incorrect! After researching the college's website, if your student is comfortable, ask them to call or email the disability office or health and wellness office to have a more personal conversation.
I always recommend that families and students have a conversation with a campus staff member in addition to doing website research.
3. What Mental Health Support Do Colleges Typically Offer?
Mental health supports can vary from college to college and can include voluntary peer support groups, licensed counselors and therapists, student mental health interns and supervising psychiatrists. All mental health supports on a college / university campus are voluntary and must be sought out and initiated by the student.
The University of Connecticut has a great website that comprehensively and clearly lists their services and many resources for students. Check out the UCONN mental health supports HERE!
4. Start the Conversation with Current Providers
It is also important for students to talk with their current mental health providers about the transition to college. This may include signing any release of information forms that would allow current and future campus providers to connect with each other.
The JED Foundation is non-profit organization whose website states they "protect emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults giving them skills and support they need to thrive today and tomorrow." CLICK HERE to visit the JED Foundation website and access their transition care planning resources (available in both English and Spanish). CLICK HERE to access their toolkit for high school educators. Their website is one of the best and most comprehensive in supporting students' mental health in the transition to college that I have found.
5. How Will My Student Know WHEN To Seek Help?
Although students may have available resources on campus, they may need guidance on:
How and when to advocate for help
To develop coping strategies that can be used in non-crises situations that lessen academic-based anxiety
How to become "unstuck" and move forward from academic and personal stress
Fast Forward College Coaching has experience supporting students in these ways! We provide 1:1 meetings with students from fall semester through graduation.
Our support 1x week can make a big difference in student's confidence and ability to identify and use the academic & mental health supports on campus.
Please reach out to us to arrange a conversation to talk about how we can help your student! Email Jennifer Sullivan - firstname.lastname@example.org
DID YOU KNOW...
Sharing the Transition to College Workbook contains worksheets and activities to build students' social and emotional skills before going to college? We know that academic skill building are not the only type of skills students need to have a successful transition. Learn More About the Workbook HERE!