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1. Start post-secondary prep early
When your child is in Grade 9, university can seem like a long way down the line. But experts say that establishing the right routines when a student transitions into high school (and even earlier) can help a great deal when she transitions out of it. Work with your child to build and maintain the basics, such as a regular sleep routine, a healthful diet and exercise regimen. Teach your child the importance of setting priorities and establishing strong study habits, like finding a distraction-free space for homework and test preparation, in grade school.
Veronika Farnell, counselling department head at Vancouver Technical Secondary School, says many students who do not develop these habits until university may find that they "struggle in the first term" when they move on to post-secondary studies.
2. Teach kids practical life skills
While many families focus on the academic challenges that first-year university or college presents, Jana Luker, executive director of McGill University's services for students, observes that the practical part of the transition is usually one of the biggest hurdles. "A lot of kids have never even done their own laundry—they've just popped it down a chute or in a basket, and it shows up in their drawer," she laughs. Often outside the family home for the first time, students can be overwhelmed by tasks as simple as paying bills, washing dishes, shopping for groceries, and eating nutritious foods. Teaching and practising these skills—from cooking a simple meal to learning how to do the laundry—well before the big move means will prepare your teen for managing his newfound independence.
3. Encourage them to expand their social circles
One often unexpected wrinkle in a smooth transition is the simple challenge of fitting in. Luker advises teens to try to step outside of the comfort zone of their high school inner circles by volunteering or joining new teams or clubs, especially in the final two years of high school. She adds that signing up for intramurals and other activities should be at the top of the list once your child arrives at university or college. "Campuses can be quite large and lonely if you don't know anyone," she says. "These are a great way to meet new people—the faster you do so, the more enjoyable your experience will be."
4. Establish solid study habits
While high school teachers often parcel out work and grades in manageable portions, universities and colleges encourage far more academic independence and are weighted heavily toward exams at regular intervals—midterms and finals. Students who procrastinate do so at their peril.
Help your teen plan ahead and establish the habits that will profit him in post-secondary: keeping good class notes, organizing that material in order to make it easier to study later on, and learning to refresh that knowledge before a key assessment. Farnell also says teens entering post-secondary can get a good idea of what their first-year workload will look like by checking syllabi and reading ahead.
5. Choose the right post-secondary institution
Sometimes parents assume that prestige equals a good choice, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a school will work for your child. Would your child do better on a large or small campus? What's the campus culture like? Is it arts- or athletics-oriented? These are questions that you should be considering when making your choice, observes Paul Cappon, former CEO and president of the Canadian Council on Learning, a national nonprofit organization. "Make sure to choose the post-secondary institution that is the right fit for them—not just based on its reputation."
Making the transition from high school to university can be stressful for parents too. Here are five things university students want parents to relax about.