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Dean of Students Kate McCaffrey Kenny
The start of the academic year brings about transitions for students and parents alike. Whether your Wheaton student is your first to go to college or their departure from home makes you an “empty-nester,” your life and theirs will be much different than it was just a few weeks ago.

Transitions and life changes are vital to the human experience and becoming a college student, or a parent of one, is no different. Common situations that first-year students encounter include: homework that starts to build up, leaving them feeling overwhelmed; the ‘honeymoon’ with their roommate ends, leading to conflict; or they get sick. While many of these things happened when they were at home with you, it can feel different and more serious now that they are away. If you do a web search on “college transitions,” you will find many articles and research studies that all essentially say the same thing: this is all normal and part of the process! Admittedly, it is easy to say have patience, but it can be difficult in such a long and sometimes challenging process.

Research suggests that the decisions your student makes in the first six weeks of college, especially those around challenging transitions, will be a determining factor in their success. While they are learning to navigate what it means academically to be a college student, they are also learning what it means to be a member of the community outside the classroom. The website Transition Year, which is sponsored by the JED Foundation (Wheaton is a member of their campus program) offers many good tips and resources for you and your student in managing some of the common issues and challenges that may arise during the college years.

Our approach is to provide support and guidance the entire first semester and beyond should students need help with these transitional issues. We find that most issues and challenges can be solved with a multifaceted approach, involving staff and faculty assistance, parental guidance and peer support from some of our older students. Should your student be faced with challenges, we ask you to take a deep breath and encourage them to persist through the challenge. We find that often a good night’s sleep, a talk with you and some encouragement that they can do it are all that they need to see the issue or challenge from a different perspective.

This fall is an especially exciting one for us here at Wheaton. We have a talented class of new students, with that excitement of so many new friends and classmates there may also come some challenges. We are prepared to meet those challenges, and with a little help from you, your student can be, too. While adjusting to living in a residence hall and sharing space with others may be one of those challenges, it can also be exciting. Should your student be having difficulty with their schedule and getting what they need—whether it be in the dining hall, the residence hall or the classroom—suggest that they talk to their RA or Preceptor about strategies to navigate the situation. Once their schedules get settled and routines are formed, all of this becomes part of the pattern of living on a college campus.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your student is the opposite of your initial instincts. We understand that you love your child and want the best for him or her. We do, too! In many instances, the best thing for you to do as the parent of a college student is to listen to your young adult’s problem compassionately, then ask them what they could do to make the situation better. We recognize that some problems are more serious than others, but empowering your student to develop a plan of action, rather than taking action for them, will pay enormous dividends for them now and in the future.

— Kate McCaffrey Kenny, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students