The Transition to College

For your student, college will likely be a period of intellectual stimulation and growth, career exploration and development, increased autonomy, self-exploration and discovery, and social involvement. During this period, your student may forge new identities or seek to clarify values and beliefs. This may require an examination of self, friends, and family. It may also be a time for exploration and experimentation, and a period in which your student may question or challenge the values you hold dear.

The changes your student may experience can occur quickly, as they begin to develop new peer relationships, gain competence in new areas, and learn to manage independence. It is important to recognize that every student will experience their own unique challenges and adjustments, just as every family member will have different expectations for and reactions to their student's college experience.

Often overlooked is the fact that the college experience is a significant transition for the families of college students.

You may experience feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride when your student leaves for college. At the same time, you may feel a sense of sadness and pain, and may have understandable fears and concerns about your student's future and well-being. You may worry about your student's safety and ability to care effectively for themselves. You may fear "losing" your student as he or she begins to function more independently and form deep attachments with peers. You may be concerned about how your student will deal with alcohol, drugs, and sexual relationships. You may also wonder how your student's performance in college will reflect on you as the family.

It can be a difficult time.

Please see the information below for suggestions on supporting your student—and yourself—during this period.

Supporting Your Student

Although your student wants and needs to become more autonomous during the transition to college, it is important for them to know you are still available. Here are a few tips for supporting your student during this time:

  • Maintaining a supportive relationship with your student can be critical, particularly during their first year of college. Even if you and your student were not particularly close prior to their leaving home, it is still important for you to convey your support. You may be surprised to find that some space and distance can help improve your relationship.
  • Maintain regular contact with your student, but allow space for them to approach you and set the agenda for some of your conversations. Let your student know that you respect and support their right to make independent decisions and that you will serve as an advocate and an advisor when asked.
  • Recognize that it is normal for your student to seek your help one day and reject it the next. Such behavior can be confusing and exhausting for families, so make sure to take care of yourself by talking about your feelings with your own support system.
  • Be realistic—and specific—with your student about financial issues, including what you will and won't pay for, as well as your expectations for how they will spend money.
  • It is also important to be realistic about your student's academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your student set reasonable academic goals, and encourage him or her to seek academic assistance when needed.
  • The fact that your student has left home does not prevent family problems from arising or continuing. Refrain from burdening your student with problems from home that they have no control over and can do nothing about. Sharing these problems with your student may cause them to worry excessively and even feel guilty that they are away from home and unable to help.

Supporting Yourself

Sending a family member off to college can be difficult for the family at home. Here are some ways to support yourself during this time:

  • Recognize that it is normal to have mixed feelings when your student leaves home. Feelings of pain and loss often accompany separation from loved ones. It is also normal to feel a sense of relief when your student leaves for college, and to look forward to some time alone, or with your significant other or younger children.
  • Do your best to develop and maintain your own social support.
  • Do your best to maintain your own sense of well-being. We recommend eating and sleeping well, exercising, and setting new and creative goals for yourself. Maybe this is a good time to do some of the things you put off while your student was growing up; taking on a project or hobby can be an excellent way to channel your energy and feelings.

Services Provided by Counseling and Psychiatry Services (CAPS)

We provide free, confidential services for UVM students, including individual and group counseling; walk-in consultations; emergency psychological services; and psycho-educational outreach programming.

Why Do Students Contact CAPS?

Students seek counseling for a variety of reasons, including relationship concerns, difficulties with roommates, loneliness, isolation, emotional difficulties including depression and anxiety, eating problems, and identity issues. Normally these problems are relatively temporary and students recover fairly quickly; however, if the intensity or persistence of any of the problems makes it hard for your student to function effectively, or if your student is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, it is advisable to encourage your student to come to the Counseling Center right away. It usually works best to allow your student to take the initiative in accessing our services—if you are the one who calls and makes an appointment, your student may be less likely to follow through.

Family Consultations

Counseling and Psychiatry Services provides consultations to families concerned about their students. Such consultations can focus on a range of issues, including how to assist a student experiencing a difficult situation, how to refer a student to us, or how to locate appropriate mental health treatment for a student. To secure a consultation, call Counseling & Psychiatry Services at 802-656-3340 and ask to speak with a counselor.

Families and Student Confidentiality

The Center for Health & Wellbeing holds the care of students in STRICT CONFIDENCE.

As professionals, our staff are expected to consult with one another, as necessary, to insure that UVM students receive the highest possible quality of care.

However, by law—and by the ethical standards embraced by our staff in the counseling and medical professions—we are not permitted to release information about a student's care to anyone outside of the Center for Health & Wellbeing without that student's explicit permission.

Specifically, we will not release information about the facts or nature of a student's care to University officials, faculty, family, friends or roommates without this permission; a copy of medical or counseling records is available only after we receive a written request signed by the student.

We break this seal of confidentiality only under one of these rare circumstances:

  • When the student has a very serious mental or physical health problem and is unable to assume responsibility for notifying others.
  • When the student's life or that of another is in danger.
  • When we are presented with a valid court order requiring us to release records.

If you have any questions about how we respect the privacy of our students, please contact Student Health 802.656.3350 or Counseling and Psychiatry Services at 802-656-3340.

Learn More


  • When Your Kid Goes To College: A Parent's Survival Guide, by Carol Barkin, 1999.
  • Getting Ready for College: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go From Bike Locks to Laundry Baskets, Financial Aide to Health Care, By Polly Berent, 2003.
  • Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn & Madge Lawrence Treeger, 1997.
  • The Happiest Kid on Campus: Parent's Guide to the Very Best College Experience, By Harlan Cohen, 2010.
  • Don't Tell Me What To Do: Just Send Money, by Helen Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller, 2000.
  • You're on Your Own (But I'm Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, By Marjorie Savage, 2009.


Note: Much of the material above was adapted from the web sites at George Washington University and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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