Is she ready? A Parent’s Guide to Assessing Their Daughter’s Emotional and Social College Readiness

By Pam Willsey, Willsey Connections

In a recent New York Times article, students were described as “emotionally unprepared” for their transition into college and adulthood, and many parents agree. As I prepare for my company’s annual retreat for rising college freshman, our office is inundated with questions from concerned parents.  They know — as I do, preparing to send my daughter off to college in just a few short weeks — that their daughter will be facing major changes. The freedom that she’s so excited about comes with a lack of structure and supervision. It’s possible she’s moving away not just from family but also from friends, her own support system and — perhaps — her trusted counselor who saw her through the various challenges of middle and high school.

So, at a time when she’s making the biggest transition of her life, she’s left with little to no guidance and support.  If you are like me, you are secretly wondering…  is she ready?

There’s Still Time! 

Assessing your daughter’s social and emotional readiness for college is a great step to take, not just to ease your own angst regarding move-in day, but also to pinpoint areas where you can infuse some last minute wisdom and perspective before she leaves the nest.

Determining your daughter’s college readiness hinges on the following cornerstones of “adulting:”  Self-management, Self Care, and Self Awareness.


Our daughters will soon face a myriad of stressors and challenges.  Critical to her successful transition will be her ability to work through these challenges, managing not only her schedule and choices, but also new relationships, roles and opportunities.

Questions to ask:

  • Has she developed healthy and effective coping strategies for the challenges she has faced in the past?  If so, can she identify her “go to” strategies? This is a great time to remind her — with a sincere compliment of her abilities — of the strategies she’s learned and practiced over the years.
  • Is she able to advocate for herself when she needs help? Both with adults and with peers?  If so, again compliment her on how well she does this. If not,  look for opportunities where she can learn how to become more assertive. These opportunities can be with a boss, a friend, a sibling, or with you as her parent. For example, asking her boss for more –or less–  hours of work, having a conversation with a friend about the shirt that she borrowed at the beginning of the summer which she has still not returned, or negotiating the shared bathroom situation with her siblings.

Self Care

Self-care is huge for college freshmen. As parents we want to be confident that our daughter is able not only to keep herself healthy — physically, emotionally, spiritually — but also able to keep herself safe.

Questions to ask:

  • Does she manage her own:
    • finances?
    • nutrition?
    • sleep?
    • work and study schedule?
    • laundry?
    • doctor’s appointments and prescription refills?
  • Does she generally make good decisions regarding substance use and sexual activity?

We all recognize that teens make mistakes, and do not always make good decisions, but as a general rule, her choices should be consistent with her values and when they aren’t, she should have some awareness of what was behind poor decisions and accept the consequences of her behaviors.

If her choices have led to negative consequences consistently — with no real increase in self awareness or a general resistance to trying to understand the underlying thoughts, feelings, and motivation that led to poor decision making —  then there is cause for more concern, and you may want to . Check out this Related Article: How Can I Help My Student Manage Stress?

Self Awareness

College marks the beginning of your daughter’s last leg of the journey into adulthood.  The internet-based resources schools set up so you can remind her of homework due and  tests coming up are gone. The nagging she’s excited to “escape” will become a thing of the past. This is — of course —  all as it should be.

The more self aware your daughter is — about her emotions, habits, strengths and risk factors —  the better she’ll fare during her freshman year and beyond.

Questions to ask:

  • Does she generally know what she is feeling and the reason behind her feelings?
  • Is she aware of avoidance patterns?  For example,  is she a chronic procrastinator, who binge watches Netflix till all hours in the morning right before a big paper or exam?
  • Has she developed a healthy balance between her social life and academic responsibilities?

You still have a few weeks left to assess your daughter’s readiness for her transition to college, and to make a plan if you identify areas of concern. As her parent, it is important that you trust your intuition. If you suspect that your daughter may not be ready yet, or if you’re unsure, consider employing . Making  these plans — including mental, medical and academic support, depending on your concerns — ahead of time, prior to her arrival on campus in the fall, will help ease the transition.

Letting go is a strange and vulnerable paradox for parents of rising college freshmen. As I navigate these waters myself, I find myself thinking about those initial months prior to becoming a new mother, and the first few weeks after bringing my babies home. We had no idea what to do, but trusted that we would figure it out. Letting go of our college-bound kid feels similar… as all of those feelings and vulnerabilities resurface. And yet, somehow most of our kids navigate this transition successfully — with support when needed —  even though they feel as unprepared and vulnerable as we did when we first brought them home from the hospital after they were born.

It’s reassuring to be reminded that parenting doesn’t end at drop-off. You and your teenager have navigated a lot to get to this moment, a reminder that you can do hard things together.

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