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Articles / Applying to College / Help for apprehensive boarding-school freshman?

Help for apprehensive boarding-school freshman?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Aug. 29, 2008

Question: What words of advice do you offer to parents of a very apprehensive 9th grader who is going away to boarding school for the first time? What encouragement can we share with her to help her get beyond the homesickness?

As your daughter takes this big step, however apprehensively, the encouragement you offer might be tied to the reasons she's going away in the first place. For instance, if the high school at home doesn't offer the interesting and challenging classes that her new boarding school will provide, then you can emphasize the pluses of a stronger academic program. If sports or arts are priorities and took a starring role in this decision, then be sure to remind your daughter of the opportunities she'll have. If she'd simply grown weary of the same ol' crowd she's known since kindergarten, then point out that she'll make friends at her new school from across the country or perhaps from around the world.

In other words, think about whatever prompted her---or you--to choose boarding school in general and this one in particular, and then haul out all those reasons and include them in your pep talk.

If your daughter is a Harry Potter fan, be sure to mention that her new school may feel a bit like Hogwarts. Even without quidditch, charms, or spells, there's something magical about a community of teenagers living together that a day school just can't equal.

But also explain that the first two or three weeks of boarding school probably won't be indicative of what's to follow. A terribly homesick child will need those weeks to get beyond it, and even a deliriously happy one may experience a downturn once the "honeymoon period" is over. So do tell your daughter that, however boarding school life begins for her, she should be aware that it may not be the real deal, especially if she's miserable.

Finally, before you say anything at all to your daughter, reflect on why she's making this move. I do hope that it was her idea or at least that she got a big vote in the decision. Of course, sometimes parents have to push a bit to get a reluctant child to do what's really for the best. As a parent myself, I've found that one of the hardest parts of the job is deciding when to do that pushing and when to stand back and bite one's tongue. So, even if the boarding school choice was really more your plan than your daughter's, it doesn't mean it's the wrong choice. But it does mean that it may take a bit longer for your daughter to decide that it's the right one for her. And, if she eventually determines that it's really not, I hope she knows that the decision isn't irrevocable. This should be part of your words of encouragement, too.

Good luck to you as you endure this transition. I hope that your daughter has a wonderful experience at her new school, even if it means that her parents feel a bit neglected by her new-found enthusiasm. :)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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