I recently came across The New York Times article When a College Student Comes Home to Stay and felt it necessary to add my two cents, given my experience working with so many families and students over the years.
In previous generations, everyone looked forward to college. Arrival on campus for freshman orientation represented freedom, new friends, and a major step towards adulthood. Today, the lead-up to college has spiraled out of control, and arrival on campus represents so much more: a sought-after prize that justifies a decade (or more!) of sacrifice.
As students work tirelessly to perfect their college essays and try desperately to increase their ACT scores following years and years of pressure, they often can’t help but develop very unrealistic expectations about the end goals that they are trying to achieve with so much hard work. This idealized version of college certainly doesn’t leave room for imagining days caught in the rain without an umbrella, courses with terrible professors, evenings missing family and friends from home, or poor scores earned during the first round of exams.
When the bad days come - and there will be bad days, even at Harvard - students are stunned and surprised. They often start thinking something is wrong with them or that they cannot handle college altogether. 95% of the time, nothing is wrong at all; they are simply experiencing the ups and downs of daily life. Because this happens so often, I find it increasingly important to guide families during the college application process to maintain a realistic viewpoint, and I encourage parents to have discussions with their children about the realities of college and the “real world.”
The better perspective these students bring with them to their freshman year of college, the less likely they will feel as if the world is crashing down around them when they are no longer in the top 10% of their class, get their first C in a course, or aren’t getting along with their roommate.
Of course, there are also situations when something more serious is at play. Should a student come home from a break or their first year and not want to return, or transfer to another school, all is not lost. Here at DC College Counseling, we not only serve high school students and their families that are embarking on the college application process for the first time, we also enjoy working with students who would like to transfer to a better-fit school. Every year we assist students from a variety of backgrounds who were unhappy with their first college selection.
Many of our clients are interested to learn that countless schools, such as UVA, have much higher acceptance rates for transfer students than incoming freshmen. In fact, we find that students who do transfer schools often have better and more options available to them than when they applied to college during high school. No matter what your family seeks or needs, always know that many options exist and we are here to help.