Last year, one of our MD family counselors‘ readers requested a blog entry on how to deal with the stress that comes with getting into college, and as application deadlines have approached and acceptance letters are beginning to be sent out, I felt it was the perfect time to talk about this. Of course, being accepted into college is a wonderful accomplishment that deserves pride and celebration. However, as with any major life transition (even positive ones!), getting into college can bring with it a great deal of stress, and our Bethesda therapists hope to offer some perspective.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was going through this time in my life, waiting eagerly for the mail each day, hoping and praying that I would be accepted to each school that I applied to. Deciding where to apply seemed difficult enough, but with the good fortune of having my choice of multiple schools, I felt the decision of where to actually go was much more difficult. How on earth could I know what to prioritize – the distance from home? The quality of my major? The size of the school? My financial aid package? Where my friends were going?

Aside from the decision, the thought of getting into college can be stressful for many other reasons. The idea of leaving the family, friends, and life that you have known can seem daunting and frightening. You may also feel very excited for new opportunities, new people, new places, and the chance to go out on your own. Of course, in many families having a member get into college can be stressful not only for that member, but for their loved ones as well. Parents often worry about whether their child will be okay away from home, how it will feel to not be there to share every day together, how things might work out financially, and more. If your sibling is going away to college and you’re still at home, you might worry that you won’t get to see or talk to your sibling as much if they move further away.

Thankfully, there are many things that you can do to cope with this stressful (and exciting!) time in your life. If you yourself have recently gotten into college and need to decide where you would like to go, spend some time with your parents or a trusted adult at school deciding what is most important to you as you choose your new home. If possible, try to visit each school you’re considering and make a connection with a current student or professor that you can talk with to get a better sense of what life is like at that school. If you are worried about what life will be like on your own, it could be helpful to take stock of your specific worries and make a plan to handle them ahead of time. For example, if you are worried about missing your family and friends from home, talk with them about setting up a regular visiting or phone call schedule so that you can stay in touch. Or, if you’re worried about how you can handle the course load, talk with your school counselor about study strategies or get in touch with an advisor at one of the schools you’re considering.

If you’re the parent or family member of someone who’s been accepted to college, it can be helpful to talk to them, with or without a family therapist in MD, about your concerns and/or expectations. Having an open discussion about how things might change in the family can help alleviate some stress now as well as in the future, if everyone is on the same page about how things might go. For example, how often should your loved one in college talk to family members? How often should each visit each other? What will happen with family rules when your child returns home from college during breaks? Are there any items that will need to be purchased for the move, and who will be responsible for them?

In general, having open communication and taking steps to prepare for this major transition will be very helpful in dealing with the stress that it brings. While the deadline to make a decision and the first day of classes are still months away, being proactive about managing stress and deciding how things can change most beneficially and smoothly for all involved can make all the difference. Don’t forget to enjoy this time together!

What has worked for you and your family when someone transitions into college? Share your tips and stories below!

Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides individual, family, and couple therapy services in downtown Bethesda, MD. Contact us today by phone or email to set up a complimentary telephone consultation to see which of our talented clinicians is the right fit for you!