Author: Dr. Crystal I. Lee (’05)

Dr. Lee is a clinical psychologist who provides house calls on the west side of Los Angeles. A well-respected member of the mental health community, she is on the board of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association. Dr. Lee is passionate about helping teens and emerging adults successfully transition to full-fledged adulthood. She has specialized experience working with neurodiverse students (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Learning Disorders). A proud Bruin, she graduated from UCLA in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. 


The transition to college comes with lots of excitement… and usually also a hefty dose of anxiety. College is often the first time your student will live away from home and will be largely responsible for their schedule, daily activities and life choices. Not only will they be handling more rigorous academics, but they will be navigating a new social scene, juggling more competing responsibilities than ever, and managing higher levels of stress. Proper planning and support are essential to your college student’s ability to thrive.

The transition to college occurs within the context of another major transition: the transition to adulthood. Your 18-year-old has now entered a developmental phase called emerging adulthood. During emerging adulthood, your student will be navigating the many different ways it means to be an adult. And because the transition to college coincides with the transition to adulthood, it can be especially difficult for some young people.

For the smoothest transition possible, take a team approach to planning. Connect with your student and all the important individuals who have contributed to your student’s success in high school (e.g., parents or other family members, relevant school personnel, psychologist) to discuss your student’s strengths and areas of growth in all aspects of life. It may be that your “team” is just you and your student, and that’s okay! Whatever the size of your team, be sure that your student is actively involved in the transition process; their opinions should hold weight in any discussions and decisions. Without your student’s buy-in, no amount of planning will help.

When discussing strengths and areas of growth, remember that college is more than just academics. As a clinical psychologist, when I conduct transition to college consultations, I look at four other areas besides academic readiness:

  1. Executive Functioning Skills (e.g. time management, organization, problem solving)
  2. Interpersonal Savviness (e.g. healthy boundaries, conflict management, appropriate communication with professors) 
  3. Basic Life Skills (e.g., laundry, money management, self-advocacy)
  4. Physical and Emotional Healthy Habits (e.g. stress management, adequate nutrition, adequate exercise)

It is important to discuss each potential area of support and then establish specific, concrete ways to provide the needed support. The members of your student’s team don’t necessarily have to give the support, but they should work together to determine who can. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the former high school teacher to give academic support while your student is in college. However, the team could find an excellent tutor to fill that role.

Not sure where to start? Here are some important college-readiness skills that may need consideration:

• Waking up independently
• Getting to appointments on time
• Establishing a daily routine
• Balancing academics and social life
• Managing competing responsibilities and deadlines
• Developing effective study skills
• Communicating appropriately with professors
• Building and maintaining meaningful social relationships
• Navigating complex roommate and residence hall dynamics
• Handling academic and interpersonal stress
• Maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits
• Managing money effectively
• Learning to self-advocate
• Problem-solving when faced with obstacles

The summer months are a wonderful time to start learning some college-readiness skills. This allows your student to practice these newly acquired skills with your additional support and encouragement. It also gives your student a good chunk of time to form these new habits. If your student takes the summer “off” and doesn’t learn any of the targeted skills from the transition plan, don’t fret! With targeted and intentional support when fall quarter starts, your college student can still thrive in their new environment.

The transition to college will inevitably come with challenges and setbacks. Fortunately, with a supportive team and detailed transition plan, setbacks become learning experiences instead of crises. So, although the transition to college may still be difficult, it won’t be insurmountable.