Family Guide

Moving through the Transition from High School to College

The day your child leaves for college is one of the most memorable days in your family’s life.

By Patricia Farrell-McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW-C
Director Emeritus, Student Counseling Center

It is the beginning of an exciting transition for the student and the family they leave behind. It is a time to embrace new challenges and experiences. College students are young adults, but your student still needs and wants your involvement in his or her life.

As with any transition, there will be times of joy and sadness. The key to moving through this transition will be to offer support and understanding to your student (and yourself), but also to have the patience and self-control to allow them to succeed—and even fail from time to time—on their own terms. We are suggesting that once again as parents you engage in that difficult balancing act that allowed your student to learn to walk, ride a bike, and now pack up and go off to college feeling confident and competent. Allowing your student to traverse the complexities of college life will increase and solidify his or her chances of succeeding at college and at work and at life beyond the college years.


One of the most common sources of conflict between college students and parents arises when their expectations differ. It is very likely that you and your student share some of the same aspirations. However, your paths to these goals may differ. Our best advice: be clear about your expectations. Tell your student you expect him or her to do his or her best. Set expectations about class attendance, financial concerns, staying in touch, and the use of alcohol and drugs. In addition, do not be afraid to restate your values. Your students know what you hold dear, but it’s okay to remind them of these things as you leave them at college for the first time.

You and your student will be concerned about some of the same things during the first year, such as overall happiness and success, both academically and socially. And while you may be concerned about what kind of job they will end up with after four intensive years at MICA, they may be worried about waking up in time for tomorrow’s class and thinking, “How will I ever get all this work done?” Your students may also be worried about their level of competency compared to other students, especially in studio classes where every student seems to be “the best” in the class. Even if students sometimes feel intimidated by the talent of their classmates, they can be reassured that they earned their way into MICA through their own hard work and talent. And, in fact, hard work and persistence may trump genius in the real business world of fine artists, graphic designers, illustrators, and animators.

We know that understanding the art world is an important part of supporting your students, so take some time to ask them questions and do your best to learn the artist’s language. One of the most interesting books on this topic, the Rise of the Creative Class, by economist Richard Florida, provides an insightful view of the role and status of the artist in society. The book may reassure you and your student that living and working as an artist in America is as important for the country’s economic growth as it is for the individual artist to make art and live his or her dream. ARTnews and Professional Artist are two periodicals that you may also find helpful in keeping up with trends in the world of the “creative class.”

What's Helpful?

The following is a short list of the most useful things parents can do to help themselves and their students during the early days at MICA:

  • On move-in day be prepared to experience conflicting emotions—yours and theirs.
  • Write, email, or phone even if your student doesn’t always respond. Even if they act like they don’t care or need to hear from you, most students love the contact. Care packages are always appreciated.
  • Do not be surprised by the “everything is going wrong” call. You may get one of these calls during the first semester. Let your student rant and vent. You may not feel better, but they will. Then encourage them to think about who on campus they might talk with for support. Remember that students grow in confidence and competence when they do the problem solving themselves.
  • Be interested in their work, their professors, and their new friends.
  • Trust your students. You’ve brought them this far. Even if you think they have not heard a thing you’ve said in the past few years, don’t believe it. Osmosis alone—just being in your family—has taught them more than they might admit at this point in their lives and even without knowing it, they will use these lessons, these bits of wisdom, especially during these first, early days of their adult lives.
  • MICA's Academic Policies & Academic Resources  are useful in answering questions about academic and behavioral issues.
  • Bookmark the contact page on the MICA website for important phone numbers and departments. You never know when you might want to remind your student of a staff member who could be helpful and how to reach that person. Encourage your student to make the call rather than making it yourself. This is an opportunity for your student to learn to advocate for him or herself—an invaluable tool.

We're Here to Help

There are many resources available to MICA students at no additional cost, including our counseling center, staffed by full-time and part-time professional counselors, MICA Student Health Services and an expert Residence Life staff available to assist with housing or roommate concerns. In most circumstances, we recommend students seek help for themselves.