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Tips for Students and Families Transitioning to College

Starting college is an exciting time for students and their families, but sometimes the transition can be more overwhelming than anticipated for both sides.

The UT Student Counseling Center staff offers students these tips for first-year success:

  • Ask for help sooner than later.“I would encourage students to be more open and accepting of their limitations and ask for help sooner, if they need it. It might not work to take 17 credit hours and be part of a club and work part time—and that’s OK. Depending on any given person’s circumstances, what they can do at any given time will vary. If it all feels like too much, talk to someone. Look to your friends, family, or professionals at the Student Counseling Center,” said Staff Therapist Clay Culp.
  • Get involved. “Get involved quickly with people and groups that share your values. This will provide a base of support as you get used to university life,” said Director of Clinical Services Judi Gibbons.
  • Show interest.“Find something you don’t understand or want explained better and go to office hours early in the semester. You want the teachers to know your name for the right reasons,” said Staff Psychologist William Hahn.
  • Maintain balance.“Seek balance by developing a clear schedule that captures time for study and for rest, meals, recreation, and friends. If you can’t find time for all of these things, you’re doing too much of something,” said Director Paul McAnear.
  • Stay connected.“Call your parents or guardians from time to time to just say hello and reconnect. And if you call while you are distressed, also call when you’re feeling better. Parents appreciate hearing about both the good and the bad days,” McAnear said.
  • Get familiar with all the campus resources that can assist. UT offers several different resources to help students transition into college- Student Success Center, Career Center, OneStop, Dean of Students, Student Disability Services, and more. We are a caring and helpful Vol Community!

The staff also have some helpful tips for parents during this time of change:

  • Don’t forget about your own transition.“The transition to college is typically thought about in terms of the student, but it can also be a significant transition for the parent. Consider what you might need in this transition. It might be helpful to find new hobbies or seek the support of friends who also have kids leaving home. Think of this as a time to try new things or practice more self-care,” said Staff Therapist Jennifer McComas.
  • Be patient.“Even though starting college is exciting, it can also be stressful. Many of our students are used to being at or near the top of their high school class, and now they are amongst other people who are just as driven, talented, and bright as they are. It can be an eye opener as students learn to deal with setbacks and disappointments that may naturally come with that. Check in with your student and be patient as they adjust,” Culp said.
  • Let them make decisions.“Support your student in decision making but allow them to make their own decisions and then experience and manage the outcomes of those decisions, both positive and negative,” said Gibbons. “Learn to listen supportively before giving advice or direction. See what ideas your student comes up with. Help them explore the strengths and limitations of their ideas. Share your opinion after they have had time to think through it themselves,” McAnear added.

Division of Student Life