Initial College Transitions

Female student and her mother pose for the camera

Having your son or daughter begin his or her university career can be a stressful experience for parents, especially if your student has not lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their feelings and reactions on hold while helping their son or daughter prepare for university life. Attending to your own emotional needs, however, as well as your students, will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college represents.

The following is adapted by Dr. Emily Abend Piassick, the Director of Mercer’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office, from the “Just for Parents Memo” from the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Serving as a Support

  • Recognize that feelings of ambivalence about your student’s leaving home are normal. For most families, this step can seem like a dramatic separation of parent and child, although it is usually the separation of adult from almost adult. It is normal, too, to look forward to the relative peace of having your active older adolescent out of the house and having to yourself, or being able to spend time with your younger children!
  • Move-In Day can be a very emotional time. During move-in day at Mercer University, it is likely that you will feel a variety of emotions that may include: sadness, guilt, relief, apprehension, and excitement. Be willing to acknowledge that you have mixed feelings about your son or daughter leaving for college. Students tend to think they are the only ones having conflicting emotions about these changes. Be careful not to dwell on your sadness with your students because they may begin to feel guilty about leaving home. Instead, talk about your sadness, but focus on how proud you are of them!
  • Remember that, for your son or daughter, coming to Mercer University is a tremendously important developmental step toward full adulthood. It represents the culmination of the teachings and learnings of 18 years, so much of it geared towards helping your son or daughter assume a productive place in the world. This is the time when your hard work will show itself in the form of a framework that your freshman will use in beginning to make independent choices. Many parents find that it helps to focus on the fact that providing your student with this opportunity is a priceless gift. Be proud of yourself!
  • Move-In Day can be stressful for everyone. You and your student may argue, have difficulty communicating, or become easily frustrated with one another. If you ask your son or daughter what is wrong, he or she may not be able to explain it. Both of you are probably scared and excited. This is NORMAL. Try to be patient with each other. You may want to take a walk around the campus-giving yourself and your student some alone time. Or you may say, “I’m going to walk around. Let’s meet up for lunch in an hour.”
  • Saying goodbye can be difficult. Saying goodbye may be the hardest part of the day for parents. The anticipated goodbye may not be the way you imagined. It is important to be flexible and take your cues from your students. Some of the students will be ready for their parents to leave while others may become anxious and tearful. Before you leave campus, place a card, a personal gift, or a picture in your son’s or daughter’s mailbox. Your son or daughter will enjoy receiving something that shows your pride, love, and support.
  • When you return home, allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up. Upon returning home, you will feel a variety of emotions. A healthy approach is to talk about them with your family, friends, clergy or whoever is a source of support for you.
  • Find a new creative outlet for yourself. Parents, especially those whose last or only child has moved away to college, find that taking on a new challenge is an excellent way to manage and channel their energy and feelings. Have you ever wanted to write a book? Learn to fly-fish? Make a quilt? Volunteer in your community? Assume a new project or responsibility at work? Travel? Get your bicycle and ride all over town? Make a list of all the things you intended to do while your son or daughter was growing up, but never had the time to do. Now is your chance!


  • Coburn, K.L. & Treeger, M.L. (1997). Letting Go: A parent’s guide to understanding the college years. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • McKay, J.K. & Ingram, W.J. (2002). Let the Journey Begin: A Parent’s Monthly Guide to the College Experience. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, Austin, TX.