The summer after the last year of high school and before the first year of college is an interesting summer — for both parents and students. There is the anticipation and excitement — coupled with stress, nerves, and the emotions of leaving home and friends behind. For parents, it’s about letting go — and having trust. Parents need to be especially patient — both with themselves and with their students — as everyone navigates this new territory.
That homeless feeling
One of the characteristics of this summer before college is the feeling of in-between that most high school graduates/not yet college freshmen feel. They are of both worlds, yet not really of either. It is a strange, somewhat homeless feeling for many students.
No longer high school
For much of the last year of high school your senior couldn’t wait to be done. The focus was on getting into college — grades, activities, college visits, applications, acceptance, decision, deposit. Once college admission is accomplished, many students settle into a few weeks (or months) of senioritis — and finish out the year.
The last part of senior year is, in many ways, one big send-off. There are senior projects, senior week or senior days, perhaps a senior trip, senior prom, graduation, parties. But now high school is finished. Your senior is no longer part of that world. The junior class may already have had a move-up or step-up day.
Students no longer see each other daily, and some are already turning their focus elsewhere. Your student can already feel the bonds loosening. In spite of the technological ties, this is the summer of many goodbyes, of heading in new and separate directions, and of knowing that long-term friendships will change.
Not yet college
But in spite of the college sweatshirt your student has purchased, in spite of an early orientation event, in spite of friendly e-mails from the admissions office, upperclassmen, and possibly a new roommate, your student does not quite feel like a member of the college community. It is impossible to feel a part of something you have yet to experience.
Your student will need to live on campus, attend classes, and begin to make connections before they feel like a true member of this new community. They are a college student in name only right now.
Living the transition . . .
And so your college student may spend much of this Senior Summer feeling unanchored. They are living at the crossroads of no longer and not yet. It is much like moving to a new neighborhood or a new town and not yet feeling ”at home” in your new community but knowing that someone else lives in your former home and you can’t return. There is excitement and anticipation, but with that unsettled feeling of not belonging either place.
It is normal for your student to feel the stress of uncertainty and displacement this summer. Be patient. Recognize that your student wants to spend all of the time that they possibly can with their friends because, although they may not recognize it consciously, they feel something changing. Recognize that your student may not be ready to jump into preparations for college yet because they don’t feel a part of that world just yet either.
A summer of mixed emotions: the myth vs. the reality
Part of the reason that this summer is difficult may be the myth that everything will be about accomplishment and the excitement. For years, everything has been focused on this next step. 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 their ability to succeed in college, or to feel sad about leaving friends behind, they may feel as though something is wrong — and as though they are the only one with these feelings. Your student doesn’t share their feelings because they assume everything is wonderful for everyone else and they are the only one with mixed feelings.
While the anticipation and excitement are real, so are the concerns about what to expect and the emotions of leaving friends behind. If, at times, you feel as though someone has replaced the student you know with a new creature that you can’t understand, you are not alone. Such is the nature of Senior Summer.
What are some of the 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 how difficult college will be and 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 friends they have known since elementary school. 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. The nagging question becomes, ”Will anyone like me?”
- 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. Students are aware of the costs of tuition and the rising student debt.
- 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 them. 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.
- Will I maintain any of my high school friendships? ”Will my best friend still be my best friend?”
- Did I make the right choice? Your student may now question that final decision. As the time to head to college grows closer, your student may be having doubts. ”Is this really going to be the right place?”
Ride the roller coaster
Understanding that the summer before college will be a roller coaster for everyone 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 their feelings — but understand if they don’t want to. Make lists of things to do and/or pack – but be prepared if your student ignores them.
And while you are being patient with your student, remember to be patient with yourself. You may be feeling the transition intersection as well. No longer a high school parent, but not yet a college parent, you may be unsure of your own role. Find some time for yourself, talk to other parents — especially those who have already made this transition, and read some books (or perhaps College Parent Central posts!) to familiarize yourself with what to expect.
Senior Summer can be trying, interesting, and even exciting if you give both your student and yourself time to find that new home where you both feel comfortable.