You Can't Go Home Again and Learning to Cope: Stages 7 & 8 in The Transition from High School to College

The transition from high school to college, particularly for students who leave home and live in campus residence halls, is a challenge for nearly all students. However, some students find it more daunting than others.  Experienced counselors, both in high schools and on college campuses, have learned to recognize the stages that most students go through, beginning at the end of senior year, through the summer after graduation, and continuing through freshman year of college.  But most students have only a vague idea of what this transition will be like and are therefore stunned by the challenges they encounter.  First generation students, in particular, are likely to encounter surprises because their parents, having not attended college, haven’t had discussions with them about what to expect.

Today, educational psychologist Jane McClure continues her series that walks students and parents through what the future may hold with Stages 7 and 8 -- You Can't Go Home Again and Learning to Cope.  Her previous posts on Stages 1 and 2  in "The Transition from High School to College" -- The Summer of Transition and Separation Anxiety -- can be seen here ;on Stages 3 and 4 -- The First Term and The Honeymoon -- can be seen here and on Stage 5 and 6 -- The End of the Honeymoon and The Grass Is Always Greener can be seen here

Stage 7:  You Can’t Go Home Again
All students suffer pangs of homesickness during freshman year if they go away to college.  If students go far away, they may not be able to return home for a visit until Thanksgiving or Christmas.  The anticipation of that return -- seeing family and friends again -- can be thrilling. But it is often followed by a kind of disappointment that is difficult to describe, or even understand.  Here’s what I think it is about.

Everybody changes!  Your friends who go away to other colleges make new friends and have new experiences that change them in subtle ways.  Your friends who stay home also change. Perhaps not as much, but if they attend a local college or get a job or pursue volunteer work, they will also be affected by their experiences.  Your parents and your siblings are now leading lives without your daily presence, and that can make a big difference.  Your younger brother or sister may have inherited your room and, even more important, may have taken on your previous role in the family.  If you were the youngest child in your family, your parents may be enjoying a new freedom which involves new activities which have caused them to change, too.

And how about you?  Of course, you have changed, although you may not realize it until someone points it out to you!  So when you get together with your high school friends, it won’t feel the same as it did before you left.  How could it, with all these changes going on?  It probably won’t feel bad. It will just feel different, and that can be unsettling if you are not expecting it and if you have been yearning for the same closeness that you experienced during senior year.  Rather than feeling sad about this, try to think of this new development as part of your evolution as a person.  You and your friends and your family members are growing and changing.  You are moving on from one stage in life to another stage, and this is a process that will continue.  Rather than being stuck in one place, you can appreciate the differences you recognize in yourself and others.  

Stage 8:  Learning to Cope

After six or eight weeks on campus, freshmen can find their way to the library, have begun to have real conversations with their roommates, and are expanding their circle of friends.   They begin to enjoy classes, engage in campus activities, and participate more actively in the life of the campus.  One of the most important coping skills to learn, therefore, is how to balance academic, personal and social demands.  Time management is crucial!

There are some excellent books on this topic that can be found on or in any bookstore. (Two good choices are The 5-minute Time Manager for College Students by Ronald A. Berk, Megan Bullick and Matthew Evins and The Time Diet by Emily Schwartz.) In the meantime, here are some suggestions for how to gain and maintain control of your time. 

  1.  Get started.  When faced with a big project, just starting alleviates a great deal of the anxiety associated with doing it.  Even if you still have a long way to go, the project seems more approachable once it is underway.
  2. Use Schedules.  Use technology to make up a daily activity schedule and designate specific study times.  Be flexible. Even if you don’t always stick to the schedule, it will make you more aware of how you are spending your time.
  3. Daily To-Do Lists.  Make a list the night before of the things you would like to accomplish the next day.  Be sure to list in order of priority and then check each item off as you go. 
  4. Avoid self-criticism.  Being overly hard on yourself when you have put things off only perpetuates the problem.  Concentrate on what you can do better next time, remembering that low self-esteem is often associated with poor time management.
  5. Find a good place to study.  If your dorm is very social, take your books and computer to a study room or the library. 
  6. Be sure to factor in time for social events and activities.  This is essential because you won’t establish a satisfying social network unless you participate in activities that are meaningful to you and attend athletic events or theater performances that make you feel connected to your campus.  Work on finding the right balance by figuring out how much study time you need to be successful in your classes and how much time you have left over to socialize and participate in activities.  It may be necessary to drop one or two activities if you find yourself spread too thin.  
  7. Have confidence.  You can do this!  Figuring out how to manage your time is a skill that will be useful to you for the rest of your life.

Jane McClure is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP 1605) and educational consultant whose work has focused on college counseling and psychoeducational evaluations.  McClure was a partner at San Francisco’s McClure, Mallory, Baron & Ross for more than 20 years. Previously named Educational Psychologist of the Year by the California Association of Licensed Educational Psychologists, McClure recently received the WACAC Service Award from the Western Association of College Admission Counseling. For the College Board, she has presented workshops for guidance counselors related to counseling college-bound students who have learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and worked as a consultant on issues related to services for students with disabilities.


Actually, you CAN go home again. Unless you are bent on cutting off the child-parental unit ties completely (shame), you can, and will, go home. Indeed, with the many holidays and breaks, students are often home (or so it seems) almost as much as they are away at college!

It's great to be at college. That sense of independence. That learning to be responsible. That appreciation for the home-cooked meal, and someone else doing the laundry.

And then, the homecoming. Made all the sweeter by the absence, and the realization that, no sooner than they've arrived (with bags of dirty laundry in tow), they'll be off to school again.

Parents. Kids. The points made in this post are right on and well taken. Manage your time, and your lives, well. And even if you don't go home on a regular basis, at the very least, call! :-)

This whole series of articles is right on the mark. And it's so important that both students and parents recognize that the transition to college is a process and that all students go through similar phases. Parents and students should also be patient with themselves (and each other), and recognize that the process isn't direct. Students will take one step forward and two steps back at times, moving back and forth through some of these stages. With understanding and support at home, most students will ultimately reach this final stage of coping and resolution. They will be able to go home again, but perhaps as newer, better versions of themselves.

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