Leaving high school

How Can I Tell If My Child Is Emotionally Ready to Go Away to College?

By Donna Volpitta

My daughter insists she’s ready to go away to college, but I’m not so sure. How can I tell if she’s emotionally ready to leave home?

Donna Volpitta

Founder, Center for Resilient Leadership

I’m so glad you’re asking this question. So much of what determines whether students are successful at college has nothing to do with academics.

Here are some key questions to help you assess your child’s ability to navigate the social and emotional aspects of college—and some tips to help her work on these skills.

Resilience: Can your child bounce back when something doesn’t go her way? It’s essential for your child to develop coping strategies in order to be ready to go away to college. Resilience will help her succeed in school and in life.

Use everyday challenges such as missing the school bus or forgetting to finish an assignment as opportunities to help your child develop coping strategies. Our initial reaction as parents is to want to solve things for our kids. But to help them build resilience, we need to let them struggle to find solutions themselves.

Self-advocacy: Does your child know who to go to if she needs help? Does she know how to ask for help? Think about whether she’s prepared for some of the issues that might arise in college, such as working through a problem with a roommate or meeting with a professor to discuss accommodations.

Role-play is one of the ways you can help your high-schooler learn how to advocate for her needs, both academic and non-academic.

Self-care: Is your child able to handle the day-to-day demands of taking care of herself? At college, there won’t be anyone making sure she gets enough sleep or eats a balanced meal. She’ll also need to do her own laundry, take care of her finances and get herself to the infirmary if she’s sick. Young adults with ADHD may also be responsible for taking their medication.

Give your child opportunities to show that she’s emotionally ready to take care of herself while she’s still at home. Let her practice getting herself up and ready for school, doing her own shopping and working on other independent-living skills while she’s at home and you can be there to guide her decisions.

Self-control: Has your child demonstrated self-control when it comes to drinking, drugs and sex? Is she prepared to make good decisions when faced with tough choices?

Teens with learning and attention issues may be more likely than other kids to seek out risky behavior. That’s why it’s so important to help your high-schooler work on self-control before she gets to college.

Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast test to determine whether someone is emotionally ready to leave home for college. In the end, it comes down to intuition. But the good news is that resilience, self-advocacy, self-care and self-control are all skills that can be taught.

If you think your child isn’t ready for college yet, you can work with her on these skills while she’s still at home with you. Give her opportunities to handle challenges and to prove that she’s ready. This is one of the ways you can help ease the transition to college.

About the Author

Portrait of Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is coauthor of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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