Leave Well to Enter Well: Tips for Easing Students’ Transition from High School to College

We calculated it today as we walked the dog through the nearby forest: In exactly two months, my daughter Kacie finishes high school and every familiar part of her life will change. In an effort to guide her through this important life change, I regularly consult research conducted by the late Dr. Dave Pollock. Having identified the five stages of transition—involvement, leaving, transition, entering, and re-involvement—Dr. Pollock outlines a RAFT model to help parents, teachers, and counselors facilitate moving on from high school to college. This article analyzes the RAFT model and shows you how to implement it into your guidance strategies.

Building a RAFT

Step one: As high school comes to a close, parents and counselors should encourage students to mend damaged relationships with people before going away. According to Dr. Pollock, failure to reconcile old discontentment—be it with a fellow student, teacher, or sibling—can interfere with making new connections.

Step two: Just as it feels good to forgive someone, students should affirm those who are important by letting teachers, coaches, pastors, and friends know that they are respected and appreciated.

Step three: It is important to have proper farewells. The cost of a graduation or farewell party is negligible compared to the benefit students receive in achieving closure with those people and places that have meant so much to them.

Step four: Lastly, Dr. Pollock advises students and counselors to think about the destinations ahead of them. Encourage your students to find out all they can about their new college campus, activities, classes, living accommodations, and nearby towns.

Leaving high school is often marked by chaos and ambiguity. It is important to remind students that the emotional roller coaster they are experiencing is completely normal. The occasional homesickness and “clueless” feelings will eventually give way to a readiness and desire to settle into new surroundings.

One way to ensure a smoother transition is to become actively involved in your students’ search for a mentor. These usually include reputable student and resident advisors who take the time to introduce students to their dormitories, campuses, and surrounding areas. Student mentors have been trained for their positions and are eager to answer questions and help new students feel at home.

Perhaps by the middle of Kacie’s second year she will feel connected and committed to her new school. From the sidelines, I will encourage her to be flexible and patient. I will remind her to laugh every day and treat each experience as the unique (and temporary) adventure that it is.


This article was written by Tina Quick

Tina Quick has moved 18 times and has raised three daughters across four cultures and continents. Her international experiences led her to start International Family Transitions, a consultancy that helps individuals, students, and families who relocate internationally. To learn more, visit www.InternationalFamilyTransitions.com.

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