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Transitioning to Life After High School: Is Your Teen Ready?

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By Emily Rubin Persons

It’s that time of year. SAT and ACT tests and college tours and seniors are about to choose a secondary school to attend in the fall or planning a gap year. It’s an exciting time with all the hopes and dreams out in front.

Yet, there may also be feelings of trepidation.

Acclimating to life in college is a whole lot of “new” for teens to manage. The schedule of a college student is often different every day, with big gaps in between classes or work. This requires the student to create their own structure for getting to classes, doing homework, figuring out when to eat, learning to navigate all the new technologies and resources and building a new social life.

Some teens have innate organization and social abilities and will not miss a beat. For others, using a calendar or alarm clock has never worked; they rely on the triggers of the consistent weekday or the reminders from the adults in their world. For them and for students with learning differences, the transition to life after high school requires additional planning.

Four key components for a successful transition to secondary education begin with the teen building self-awareness and self-acceptance: knowing their strengths and understanding where they need support. Self-reliance of being able to deal with setbacks and having the strategies to troubleshoot. For example, what to do if their laptop breaks, when they get a bad grade, they have no one to eat with or they don’t know how to work some new tech platform required for a class? Self-advocacy skills are important when the student must seek help to get their needs met. Is your teen secure in these skills?

To strengthen adult skills, start by having your teen handle more of their own needs independently. One obvious task is laundry. Yet, there is much more in building self-awareness and figuring out how to get stuff done on their own. Aside from taking control of all schoolwork and schedules, it is necessary to build tolerance for managing the emotional triggers of anxiety and depression, managing medications, learning to persevere through discomfort (i.e., going to class even when feeling anxious) and remembering the triggers and strategies for handling impulsivities.

All secondary schools offer peer-peer tutoring for specific subjects. For students with ADHD, ASD, dyslexia or other disabilities, registering with the Office of Disabilities (also called Academic Resources or Student Support Services) is necessary if their 504 accommodations need to continue.

Services vary at each school, are often fee-based with application deadlines and should match the needs of your teen. Important to note, while the services are available, the student must actively seek them out as the school will not chase the student to attend. Consider creating a mental health transition plan with a therapist, psychiatrist or coach since many professionals are not licensed in other states.

Classes move faster in college and it’s very easy for unfinished work to suddenly loom like a big mountain causing fear and feelings of being overwhelmed. The result could be lower-than-expected grades, heightened anxiety or even failing a class.

Many of my clients have failed a class or two in their college career but it’s what they do with that information that dictates how they will rebound. Professors are always available via e-mail or office hours but won’t engage with parents. Is your teen able to articulate and advocate for the help and accommodations they need?

Here are some self-reflecting questions to help your teen.

Is this similar to something I did before?

  • Do I understand the directions?
  • Who can I go to for help?
  • What’s the first step?
  • When will I do it?

Afterward, the reflecting questions are: What worked well? What didn’t? What will I do differently next time?

Mistakes happen, grades can fluctuate. Is your teen ready to cope with the ups and downs of independently managing classwork, personal care and their new social world?

Marshall University has an excellent “Guide to Finding Appropriate Support for Students with Disabilities.” This handbook provides a comprehensive overview for any student (not just those with learning differences) on how to locate academic support programs at a university level. Visit

Here are a few schools with excellent student support programs. Your teen needs to be a website detective to find the services at the school of choice.

University of Connecticut: Beyond Access; Marist College: Accommodations & Accessibility; Tufts: STAAR Center; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Center for Student Success; University of Denver: Learning Effectiveness Program; Curry College: Program for Advancement of Learning; American University: Academic Support & Access Center.

Summer transition programs are the new trend in which schools offer an on-campus experience for incoming freshmen. The programs provide support and skill-building to assist students’ successful transition to college.

A shortlist to investigate: Beacon College’s Transition to College Program; Curry College’s Summer Pal; University of Connecticut’s SSS Summer Program; and Adelphi’s LRP Summer.

We want our teens to do well once they get on campus. Yet the statistics for college success for students with learning disabilities is low (i.e., 5 percent with ADHD graduate in four years). Starting now will help your teen build self-awareness and self-acceptance, which will provide them with the competence and confidence to self-advocate leading to a successful college experience.

Emily Rubin Persons is the parent of three sons with very different learning styles. She is an ADHD Life Coach with SKIP Coaching and board member for CHADD Westchester. She works with college students and adults, helping them overcome the feelings of being overwhelmed, improve self-awareness and strengthen executive functioning skills so they can meet their full potential academically, professionally and socially. For more information, visit

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