The transition from home to college

After a decade as UNE's First Year Advisor in the School of Business and School of Law, Nola Holmes has considerable experience of students struggling to combine their new college lifestyle with academic studies. The former high school teacher, year advisor and head teacher says this often culminates in what she describes as the "washing crisis".

"I've had students come to me absolutely swamped and some trying to hold back tears," Nola says. "They want to discuss managing their studies, but it's clear the underlying problem is that they are having trouble managing everything associated with being away from home and looking after themselves. They're not managing their time well, their washing is mounting up and so they're living in a mess."

Nola commonly gives the same practical advice: bundle up the backlog of washing and pay to have it done at a laundromat. "Then they can pick it up and they're sorted," she says. "It's like hitting the reset button, they’re not playing ‘catch up’ and have their time back to focus on studies as well as looking at life from a less stressed (and cleaner) place; the student can start developing better routines. If parents/care-givers can help their student to think through possible ways to manage the day-to-day lifestyle issues, then it will help them with their academic studies."

Not all issues are so easily resolved. New pressures to drink, experiment with drugs and avoid the individual responsibilities of university study can impact students desperately seeking a sense of belonging in their new community. Fear of missing out can be a powerful motivator.

"Alcohol is a big one, but it's not the only one," said Nola. "Students experience many conflicting interests as they explore their new-found independence, learn to prioritise their studies and manage their lives, including, in some cases, part-time work.

“Others prefer time alone and need to navigate the options of when to join in college activities and when to find privacy/personal space, so they don’t feel swamped. Not everyone is a ‘group’ person and it is important for students to know that wanting time on their own, and saying so, is equally valid, too."

A full-time job

Nola recommends parents encourage their students to treat a full-time university load [3-4 units] as their full-time job. "Including, not just their scheduled classes but all the time they need to devote to reading, assignments and study," she says. "I use the analogy of every lecture or tutorial being a scheduled business meeting and the rest of their uni work being the equivalent of their office job. They wouldn't leave 'work' to sleep or go to the pub, and imagine if you decided to skip a business meeting with your boss?”

Peaks and troughs

Transitioning to university is a highly stressful event in a young person's life. "They are moving, changing jobs and departing from friendship groups, which are the big psychological indicators of stress in anyone's life," Nola says. "Students coming to college tick all those boxes; the mental and emotional stress can leave them burnt out. It's perfectly normal for them to feel overwhelmed. And everyone around them who is smiling and laughing is probably feeling overwhelmed, too, but is just putting on a ‘public face’.

"The excitement generally lasts a few weeks, and then college students hit a trough, when the novelty wears off and reality kicks in. That's when parents may hear from them a little more."

Be there

Knowing that their most important support system is still available is vital. "The student needs to know that it's okay to call home, that they have your support and understanding," Nola says. "The same goes for exam periods and assessment submission times. This is when it helps to advise the student to take a bigger-picture view and remember their goals. Of course, parents should also let the college know if there is something they are concerned about, so staff and leaders can keep a watchful eye."

5 Top Tips for a Smooth Transition:

Here are our top 5 tips for how you can help your student to prepare for college life and flourish.

1. Stay in touch

Keep the communication channels open and do what works best for your student - phone, text or group chat. Resist the temptation to call too often. They need time and space to develop a sense of independence and personal responsibility.

2. Dollars and sense

Advise your student on managing money and budgeting. Before they leave home, ensure they have a bank account, Medicare card, Tax  File  Number,  Healthcare  or other concession cards,  and have lodged necessary Centrelink paperwork.

3. Cook up new skills

Depending on the college, your student may be required to cater for themselves. Make sure they can shop and have perfected a few simple, healthy recipes before they leave your kitchen. They will also need to know how to operate a washing machine.

4. Time management 101

Students living independently for the first time often struggle to plan their time effectively. Discuss the importance of maintaining a balance between study and social activities/entertainment and work. Marking up a wall planner with all major due dates and university events helps.

5. Encourage and support

Celebrate your student's achievements, lend them a sympathetic ear when needed and remind them to stay focussed, especially in times of stress. Support and encourage new friendships and activities. And become familiar with the campus help you can recommend, contained within this guide.