Senior Summer: A Roller Coaster of Mixed Emotions
The summer before the first year of college. It is an interesting summer – for both parents and students. There is the anticipation and excitement – but that is coupled with stress, nerves, and the emotions of leaving home and friends behind. Parents need to be especially patient – both with themselves and with their students – as everyone navigates this new territory.
In our last post, we discussed the in-between nature of this summer for both students and parents. In this post, we look at some of the concerns that often cause stress for students as they anticipate the launch to college.
Part of the reason that this summer may be difficult is the myth that it is all about the accomplishment and the excitement. The application and admissions process is finally over and your student is in! It’s a tremendous accomplishment. For years, everything has been focused on this next goal. A whole new world awaits, and it is going to be wonderful. This is going to be a stress-free, relaxed last summer at home. This is a “summer to remember.” The build-up to this summer has been monumental.
If your student begins to worry about what is to come, to feel insecure about her ability to succeed in college, or to feel sad about leaving friends behind, she may feel as though something is wrong – and as though she is the only one with these feelings. She may not want to share her feelings, her friends may feel the same way, but she doesn’t know it. She assumes everything is wonderful for everyone else and she is the only one having mixed feelings.
While the anticipation and excitement are real, so are the concerns about what to expect and the emotions of leaving friends behind. This may be a confusing summer for everyone, although no one realizes or admits it. And depending on how your student responds to stress, it may be a difficult summer for everyone. If, at times, you feel as though someone must have arrived during the night and replaced the student you know with a new creature that you can’t understand, you are not alone. This is the nature of Senior Summer.
What, exactly, is your student so worried about? She wants to go to college, she was accepted, she’s excited. What could the problem be? Actually, there may be many things on your student’s mind.
- Will I be able to do the work? This is often the #1 fear for many students. They’ve heard about the importance of preparing for college and the difficulty of college work. They’ve been accepted, but they worry that they will not be able to succeed academically.
- Will I make any friends? This fear ranks second for many students (and first for some). Many students have been in high school with friends they have known since elementary school – or even since birth. They can barely remember what it is like to have to create a whole new circle of friends. And it is easy to forget that everyone at school will be in the same boat and need to make new friends. “Will anyone like me?” looms as a large, nagging question.
- Will I get along with my roommate? Many students have never had the experience of sharing a room with anyone – certainly not a tiny room that becomes the center of your living experience. They worry about what their roommate will be like, whether they will get along, and what they will do if things don’t seem to be working.
- Will we be able to afford this education? Depending on your family financial situation, and how much you and your student have discussed finances, this may be a great concern. Certainly, students are aware of the costs of tuition. And some students are aware of the costs beyond tuition, which many students may be responsible for themselves. Whether it is tuition worries or everyday living expense concerns, many students worry about paying for college.
- Who will I be at college? The beginning of college comes with a clean slate. Your student will enter college without a reputation or history following him. His experience and reputation will be what he makes of it. For many students this is a wonderful, freeing experience. For other students, who may have enjoyed a great reputation in high school, this comes with significant pressure to create a new image.
- What should I be doing to prepare? It feels as though there must be a lot to do to get ready to go away to college, but your student may not be sure what it is. She may feel as though she should be doing something, but she’s not sure what, and she worries whether she’ll be ready.
- Will I maintain any of my high school friendships? Students know they will stay in touch with close friends, but they may worry that they will be displaced by new college friends. “Will my best friend still be my best friend?”
- Did I make the right choice? Your student may now be questioning all of the effort that went into making that final decision. As the time to head to college grows closer, your student may be having second thoughts and doubts about whether this was the right decision. “Is this really going to be the right place?”
The reality is that many of the concerns that students have this summer are shared by parents. You also worry about finances, academic success, social connections, and emotional happiness for your child. In addition, it is natural to worry about your student’s safety, wise choices about alcohol, sex and drugs, and whether or not your student will share with you how things are going. Senior summer is definitely not worry-free for most parents.
Ride the roller coaster
Understanding that the summer before college will be a roller coaster is the first step. Understanding that you are not alone, but are on this ride with your student – and with thousands of other parents – may help. This is a summer of patience – and a test of your ability to “go with the flow.” Talk to your student about your concerns – but only a little. Encourage your student to share her feelings – but understand if she doesn’t want to. Make lists of things to do and/or pack, but be prepared if your student ignores them.
Remember that your student must come to terms with this experience in his own way. Be there, and see what happens.