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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 on helping students have a smooth 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 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and completing the CSS Profile™ (if needed). “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 start money conversations now, including talking 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. “Connecting alumni with current students has been an effective tool in giving current students a more honest and realistic depiction of college life,” advises Lizzy 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. His school organizes an annual forum where they invite 10 graduates from the year before to talk about their experiences as freshmen. 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, associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a school counselor ambassador fellow with the US Department of Education, 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. Ask the Students

Don’t forget to check in with the students to make sure they feel they have everything they need for the college transition, reminds Muzzy. “In doing so, you find opportunities to teach about topics important to the high schooler.” 

6. Plan for the Long Haul

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.

7. Start Early

Though it can be tempting to wait until all the college acceptances have rolled in, prepping 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.”

Finishing high school and starting college is a period that is full of big change. 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.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans. 

CSS Profile™ is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

AP® and Advanced Placement® are trademarks registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

International Baccalaureate® is a trademark registered by the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.