Once applications are in, it’s time for you to help get your students ready for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of going to college. Here are seven tried-and-true tips from fellow counselors for graduating seniors to have a smooth college transition.

1. Sync Up With Parents

As a counselor, you interact with students every day, but it helps to also find ways to connect with parents. Whether through email newsletters or in-person parent nights, counselors can help parents think about how they can also get their kids ready for college.

Phillip Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, says that it’s important to make sure that parents have done their part, like filing the out the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and completing the CSS Profile® (if needed). It’s also a great time to remind parents of graduating seniors to continue having money talks and conversations about general life skills with their child. “This is a really great time in a student’s life for parents to begin doing things with a budget,” adds Trout. Encourage parents to talk about money with their student now, including about expectations of who will pay for what, how often the student will travel home, and whether they will be expected to get a job.

2. Recruit Recent Grads

You might be the pro, but hearing advice from recent grads can have a significant impact on students. “Connecting alumni with current students has been an effective tool in giving current students a more honest and realistic depiction of college life,” advises Lindsay Muzzy, LCPC, MA, a community outreach director with My College Planning Team and a counselor at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago. “Oftentimes, students have questions that they may not want to ask a counselor. However, if given the opportunity, they will ask a college student.”

Trout agrees. “There’s nothing that is so effective and powerful as the voice of people they consider to be peers,” he says. For example, his school organizes an annual forum where they invite 10 graduates from the year before to talk about their experiences as first-year students. Trout says that while the alumni say many of the same things as the counselors, “We know that students were hearing the message much more loudly within the construct of that panel.”

3. Emphasize Finishing Strong

Remind your students all the reasons why it’s important to finish strong—regardless of their college application status. Trout says this is particularly important for students in AP® (Advanced Placement®) and IB (International Baccalaureate®) courses with big exams in May that may be worth college credit. Emphasizing the tangible benefits—like decreased tuition costs—can help motivate students. Offering real-life examples of students who have had acceptance offers rescinded after failing classes senior year can also help drive home the importance of not slacking off.

4. Address the Emotions

While a lot of the focus on preparing for college is academic, Patrick O’Connor, a college consultant and author of College is Yours, says that it’s also important to acknowledge the social and emotional impact of the transition. “Many students with great grades are hesitant to talk about the anxieties they might feel about leaving home or going to a new place. It’s important to talk about college as a life experience,” he says. “It will help students be excited about what’s next without feeling overwhelmed by it.”

Muzzy agrees. “Counselors can spend time working with students on self-advocacy, healthy relationships and study skills for college. For many students, entering a new environment where people do not know them can be daunting, and teaching—or reteaching—these skills can help a student be more cognizant of their behaviors and attitudes.”

5. Have a Summer Communication Plan in Place

Although your high school seniors graduate in May or June, your job may not end there. Muzzy recommends laying the groundwork now to continue to work with students through the summer to help them avoid the “summer melt.” Some students who have been accepted to college lose motivation and end up not enrolling. “Following up with those students who may still need assistance can positively affect their continued desire to follow through on their enrollment plans,” says Muzzy. “This is especially critical for first-generation college students who may not have the family support or knowledge on how to be a successful college student.”

For a hands-off way to provide assistance to students after graduation, O’Connor suggests creating a website with relevant information and resources for college success. “Students often only listen to this advice once they really need it, and that may be after graduation or once they’re at college. A web page gives them access to that information on demand,” he says.

6. Have These Conversations Throughout High School

Though it can be tempting to wait until all the college acceptances have rolled in, preparing students for the challenges of college transition early is key, says O’Connor. “Telling students about this in April of senior year is almost a guarantee they won’t pay attention,” he warns. “Early, short presentations in classes that all seniors take can go a long way to bring these points home.” You can also have casual check-ins and touch bases with all your students. Talking about college transitions is something that can be brought up with juniors, so they’re receptive to the information by senior year.

7. Help Them Understand College Resources

From the college counseling center to residential life, there are many resources in college that graduating high school seniors may not be aware of. It can be helpful to let students know what they can seek out on campus, and it may also be helpful to talk a bit about how these resources can be utilized. For example, some students may assume that professor office hours are formal, or should only be used in an emergency. Other students may not realize that the residential life department can help solve roommate issues. Giving a broad overview can help provide familiarity to certain terms they’ll encounter on campus, and help them seek out help when they need it.

Finishing high school and starting college is a period that is full of life changes. Whether your students are blissfully ignorant of what lies ahead of them or overly anxious, high school counselors are uniquely situated to set them up for success.


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