Preparing Your Teen for College

Teen Line originally published this post in 2017. You can find the original posts here and here.

There has been a nearly 37% increase in adolescent depression from 2005-2014. (Pediatrics, November 2016). Today's teens report levels of stress that are higher than adults, exceeding healthy levels. (American Psychological Association, 2014). Suicide rates, particularly among adolescent girls, doubled from 2007-2014 and reached a 40 year high in 2014 (CDC, 2017). So, what is happening with our kids? Why are they so stressed out and unhappy with all the advances in technology, medicine, and knowledge?


One word I keep coming back to over and over, particularly this time of year, is COLLEGE. It's more than just the expectation that our teens will go to college, but more the dogma that only certain colleges make it all worth it. Either our kids aren't "good enough," or we're not "good enough" if our kids don't get into one of those schools. And if your child doesn't go to college, what does that say for our parenting?

There are at least 2,000 four-year universities in the United States and at least 2,000 more 2-year colleges. Some schools even have a high acceptance rate. However, there are only 8 Ivy Leagues and a small number of others that we hear about repeatedly.


In 2016, almost 40,000 students applied to Harvard University. About 2,000 were admitted. That is FIVE percent. NONE were taken off the wait list. Stanford, not technically an Ivy, but also a very coveted school had over 43,000 applicants and took about 2,000. Under FIVE percent. Even their dean finds this something not to boast about.


We see kids going off to the prestigious schools they have worked their entire lives to get to and really struggling emotionally, maybe from the years of pressure to get to where they are. Or not having the "soft skills" like how to self-advocate or take care of themselves because they've been too busy resume building to learn those things.


Before your child makes a decision to apply to a school, find out more about the school and how your child would fit into it? What do they like about the school minus the name and reputation? We need to remember that college is not the end all be all. It’s not for everyone. Where do your child’s passions lie? Would they be well served by a gap year? Malia Obama took a gap year, and her father, the former president, supported it. Is your child happy? Are they thriving? Do they enjoy learning? Do they have the tools in place to manage on their own?


Before you go, here are nine things that parents should make sure their kids know before leaving the nest:

  1. It’s okay not to be “okay.” While many of your incoming freshman may have dreamed of going off to college for years, the reality is often a lot different than the fantasy. Making new friends, sleeping in a new place, getting along with a roommate, and finding people to eat with can all be incredibly intimidating.

  2. Where to go for assistance if things are overwhelming. Most campuses have a counseling center, or educational resources. Encourage them to seek them out if they need help. Everyone in there is probably feeling as awkward/embarrassed as they are.

  3. People will be better than them at things, and that’s okay. In high school, your teen may have been a superstar student, athlete, etc. Guess what? At their school, maybe everyone is a superstar student, so that thing that made them special doesn’t quite anymore. This doesn’t mean they’re doomed to a mediocre life.

  4. Mistakes are okay and how we learn. Try not to let them define the person they are. As Winston Churchill said, ”Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

  5. Lives on social media are not always real lives. (This is a good life lesson too). Their friends at other colleges may be posting pictures where they look like everything is amazing. No one posts the times they cry under a blanket or don’t eat dinner because they have no one to eat with.

  6. What consent looks and sounds like, and how to handle tricky situations. Teach assertiveness skills and empower them to know it’s okay to say “no.” Police in the UK created this video ,which is one of the better explanations I’ve seen of consent.

  7. How to handle an emergency or just being sick on their own. There’s nothing like being sick away from home to make you homesick (trust me, I remember this one personally). Send your teens with a first-aid kit with things like Tylenol or cold medicine.

  8. That it’s now their job to fix or improve things. College professors do not appreciate parents intervening on their student’s behalf. Make sure they know how to advocate for themselves, and how to take responsibility if they missed a deadline or assignment.

  9. And most importantly, how to do their own laundry so they don’t end up with an all pink wardrobe=)


The "Race to College" is a problem that is bigger than all of us, and not easily “solved.” But, we can be the ones to take a step back and say “we’re not going to do this!” Nothing is more important than our kids’ mental health. Change happens slowly. It’s hard to be one against the current. But, with statistics such as we are seeing, I think it’s a matter of life and death.


At Teen Line we work to provide personal teen-to-teen education and support before problems become a crisis, using our national hotline and community outreach. Visit our Parents & Caregivers page for more resources and information to help you understand and support teens’ mental health as well as promote overall well being.

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