The End of the Honeymoon and The Grass is Always Greener: Stages 5 and 6 in The Ten Stages of Transition from High School to College

The transition from high school to college, particularly for students who leave home and live in campus residence halls, is a challenge for nearly all students. However, some students find it more daunting than others.  Experienced counselors, both in high schools and on college campuses, have learned to recognize the stages that most students go through, beginning at the end of senior year, through the summer after graduation, and continuing through freshman year of college.  But most students have only a vague idea of what this transition will be like and are therefore stunned by the challenges they encounter.  First generation students, in particular, are likely to encounter surprises because their parents, having not attended college, haven’t had discussions with them about what to expect.

Today, educational psychologist Jane McClure continues her series that walks students and parents through what the future may hold with Stages 5 and 6 -- The End of the Honeymoon and The Grass Is Always Greener.  Her previous posts on Stages 1 and 2  in "The Transition from High School to College" -- The Summer of Transition and Separation Anxiety -- can be seen here and on Stages 3 and 4 -- The First Term and The Honeymoon -- can be seen here

 

STAGE 5:  THE END OF THE HONEYMOON

 

The freedom of life in the dorm, away from parental expectations and rules, can be euphoric. But with freedom comes responsibility and students have to find that all-important balance between their academic and social lives.  It usually doesn’t take long for students to realize that much of college life consists of hard work. 

 

If they haven’t been paying enough attention to what’s going on inside the classroom or the lecture hall, they may get a terrible shock when a quiz turns out to be much harder than expected.  Failing to attend class, to keep up with the reading that is listed on the syllabus, or to go over lecture notes on a regular basis – all of these bad habits can be disastrous. 

 

A guideline to follow to avoid these pitfalls is for students to spend three hours of work/studying/rewriting notes for every one hour in the classroom or lecture hall.  In addition, you should keep notes and other materials organized.  Meet with professors during their office hours if you are struggling or have questions.  Be sure you know what is expected on the first paper you write for each class.  Establish a study group with classmates who are serious about getting good grades.  This can be particularly important before a midterm or final exam.  Going over the material together can be invaluable and if you can explain a concept to others in your group that means you thoroughly understand it.  As mentioned in a previous blog, your campus Writing Center can provide valuable assistance for all writing assignments.

 

If this phase is stressful and students are struggling to find their way, they might experience symptoms of homesickness and long for the security of home.  It helps if both students and parents realize this is absolutely normal and will eventually subside.  If students need help, especially if they are far away from home, the Counseling Center can provide guidance and assistance.  Counselors have seen these symptoms before and are well versed in how to help students move through them.

 

STAGE 6:  THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER

 

About midway through freshman year, freshmen may begin to think that all their problems with college could be solved by transferring to another institution.  This is most likely to happen to the student who has agonized over the final decision and had a hard time choosing between two or three colleges.  But it can happen to anyone, especially if there is just plain bad luck during the first semester -- roommate problems, an unsupportive advisor, or uninteresting or very difficult classes. 

 

Experience has taught me that many problems which seem insurmountable in the first semester are reduced or disappear by year’s end.  This happened to one of my students two years ago.  She is an outstanding student and a fabulous person.  She was at a college that was an excellent fit for her. But everything that could go wrong did go wrong during the first semester.  She decided that she had to transfer.  She went to all the time and effort required to apply to four colleges – again, having just completed the application process during her senior year! – and was accepted at two of them.  She contacted me to let me know the results of her applications, but said she was staying at her college because her second semester was going great and she was very happy.  She had a new roommate, a new advisor, and loved all of her classes!  Perhaps most important, she had become involved in extracurricular activities where she met friends who shared her interests.  Had she transferred, she would have had to go through the transition again. 

 

Occasionally, it may be in a student’s best interest to transfer, but problems can usually be overcome when students have some guidance and realize that it can take a while before they become completely settled in their college environment.

 

Jane McClure is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP 1605) and educational consultant whose work has focused on college counseling and psychoeducational evaluations.  McClure was a partner at San Francisco’s McClure, Mallory, Baron & Ross for more than 20 years. Previously named Educational Psychologist of the Year by the California Association of Licensed Educational Psychologists, McClure recently received the WACAC Service Award from the Western Association of College Admission Counseling. For the College Board, she has presented workshops for guidance counselors related to counseling college-bound students who have learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and worked as a consultant on issues related to services for students with disabilities.

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