The high school graduation commencement ceremonies are long gone and it's prime season for graduation parties. If you're a parent of one of the 2,000,000 girls nation-wide getting ready for her freshman year at college, you no doubt are getting prepared to handle a summer's worth of your daughter's pre-college jitters.
I had a chance to interview Lauren Salamone, a college transition expert, to discuss the challenges girls face making the transition to their first year of college.
Oakland County Moms: Why is transitioning from high school to college more challenging for girls than it is for boys?
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: The way I would describe it is that girls have their own set of issues when it comes to the college transition. The first few weeks of college are overwhelming. Students step out of their comfort zones and find themselves facing many brand new aspects of life all at once. By definition, there will be high moments and low ones throughout the transition. It helps if students are prepared for this fact, so they’re not disappointed. In my experience I find that girls can be very hard on themselves, especially when in this vulnerable state. They can start to buy into their own negative self-talk, which can make it especially tough to enjoy a successful transition to college. This negativity tends to crop up whenever we do something new, exciting, and challenging. When we recognize our negative thinking for what it is – a common reaction to stepping out of our comfort zones & taking a good risk – we can move through it to a confident place. If you explain this basic psychology to your daughter before she leaves for school, you’ll not only help her in college, but you’ll be enlightening her on a reality she will face whenever she takes an important leap in her life.
Oakland County Moms: What types of preparation should recent high school grads take the summer before they begin college?
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: Honestly, they should read my book, 5 Must-Know Secrets for Today’s College Girl. I’ve been a mentor to college women for 15 years, and in this book I share the most universally useful strategies for making a smooth transition to college. What I have seen over the years is that having a success plan in place when she enters college really helps. The 5 Secrets provide the foundation for building her own personal success system, which will not only be applicable for her college years, but for the rest of her life.
Oakland County Moms: What are girls' biggest fears before entering college? Are the worries social? academic? putting on weight with the dorm food?...
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: The two most common concerns I hear are “Will I be able to handle the work load?” and “Will I fit in and make friends?” To alleviate these concerns, I find it’s very helpful to encourage students to be patient with this process and to arrive with an open mind and heart.
Academics – It will take a while to get used to the rigors of academia in college, and part of the process will be getting a handle on time management. Students will have more time on their hands than ever before with huge gaps between classes. It helps if parents explain that students should look at academics as their “job” in college (40 hours per week) and plan their time accordingly. Also let them know that there are plenty of people ready, willing and able to help them succeed academically. Professors, TAs, tutors, and learning centers are a few examples.
Making Friends - Keeping their dorm-room doors open as they settle in will invite early interactions. They should plan to sign up for one or two activities early on, and get into the habit of asking people open-ended questions to get them talking. It also really helps if they avoid the temptation to spend inordinate amounts of time communicating with high school friends. They must be “present” to become part of their new community.
Oakland County Moms: Does your book, 5 Must-Know Secrets for Today’s College Girl, deal with any safety issues a young woman might be worried about before heading off to campus?
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: You bring up a very important point here. This is not a topic I discuss in my book; however, I discuss safety issues with my mentees as well as when I present at schools. Specifically, we talk about acquaintance (or date) rape, which is an unfortunate reality on college campuses. It’s a crime that often goes un-reported. And usually (not always) alcohol is involved. This IS a subject for parents to discuss with their daughters. Being aware of the facts before she arrives on campus can help tremendously to alleviate this unthinkable situation. It’s crucial that she understand that it’s never okay for someone to force unwanted advances on another. Never. Regardless of the circumstances. I would strongly urge parents to read the AAETS Report on this topic and discuss the precautions with her. Here’s the link: http://www.aaets.org/article135.htm. (Although this report was written in 2004, I still find it one of the best.)
Oakland County Moms: Are recent high school girls more prone to homesickness than recent high school grad boys?
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: Plenty of guys get homesick, too. But I would say that many girls feel homesickness more intensely. In addition to the strategies I mentioned in the first question and when we discussed making friends, there is something else that helps girls stay focused on the positive aspects of their new experience as they transition: It helps to think of herself as wearing a metaphorical explorer’s hat as she enters college. As an explorer she will take her time as she soaks in the many new opportunities around her. And she should also use the experience to do an internal exploration. She will have the opportunity in college to discover her own unique gifts, which is a very important part of her college journey. It’s tremendously useful when it comes to choosing classes, a major, and possible career. But college professors and coaches report that female students tend to deflect when complimented on their strengths. It helps to guide your daughter through the process of recognizing and believing that she possesses unique strengths. This inner exploration and discovery will boost her confidence, which will help her get much more out of her college experience.
Oakland County Moms: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Lauren Salamone, college transition expert: Yes. One of the most important things parents can do is to help students find the right people to assist them in solving problems rather than attempting to take care of everything for their kids. If students have roommate issues, for example, help them determine the hierarchy of staff who can (and are trained to) lend assistance: RA, Dorm Supervisor, Director or Assistant Director of Housing. It can be hard to resist the initial reaction to try to “fix” things for our kids when we see them struggling with an issue. But we are giving them a gift by empowering them to help themselves while they are on the bridge to adulthood. Listen. Offer guidance. And help her help herself.
ABOUT LAUREN SALAMONE
Lauren Salamone is an award-winning mentor to college students, speaker, and author of the best-selling college guide 5 Must-Know Secrets for Today’s College Girl. For helpful resources for students and parents, visit CollegeGuidanceGuru.com.