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Ask A TFI Clinician: Transitioning to College with Adia Gooden, PhD

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The summer months often lead up to a transition, particularly for those still in school: new teachers, new sets of rules and, for kids transitioning from high school to college, entirely new schedules or, sometimes, places to live.

Today Family Institute staff therapist Adia Gooden, PhD, provides tips for both students and their parents as they prepare for this momentous transition.



It’s psychologically significant.

The transition from high school to college is psychologically significant because this is often the first time that most students are living semi-independently. This is particularly true for students who live on campus or go away for college. Additionally, during college, students must manage their schedules and workloads on their own.

These changes can cause anxiety. Students moving away for college may face anxieties about being far away from their home and family. Students may also experience anxiety related to making new friends and adjusting to a new environment.

Additionally, students often worry about whether they will be able to succeed academically at their college. Many high achieving students are accustomed to being the best students in their class, and going to a selective university can require students to adjust to being one of many high achieving students. Further, students who were not challenged academically in high school can sometimes face difficulties when they have to learn to study in order to succeed in more rigorous courses.

It’s a struggle for both students and their parents.

At times, students are allured by their newfound freedom and end up spending too much time partying and not enough time studying. A common misstep for students is to wait too long to ask for help when they are having difficulty in their first semester.

Parents also have their own struggles. Some parents have difficulty allowing their children to become independent and try to do things for their students that students should be doing for themselves.

It’s important for parents to come to terms with the transition of their child leaving home and attending college. They should acknowledge and process the range of feelings (e.g. sadness, joy, excitement, relief, anxiety) that can emerge through these transitions. That said, parents should be careful not manage their anxiety and other difficult feelings by trying to do things for their children. Parents should guide their children during the transition while giving their child the space to grow and learn to do things independently.

It’s manageable.

There are ways that students and families facing this transition can ease some of the struggle:

  1. Get Organized: Make sure you get your binders, notebooks, computer, etc. ready so that you know how you’re going to organize your notes and homework before school starts.
  2. Be Prepared: Parents should teach their children to do things like laundry and how to manage money before they move away.
  3. Do Some Research: Look into resources (counseling center, academic advising, tutoring, etc.) that students can access if they run into difficulty.
  4. Get Excited!: College is a great time of learning, growth and exploration—go into it expecting to have a wonderful experience.


Adia Gooden, PhD, is a postdoctoral clinical fellow at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Gooden has extensive experience working with young adults who are in college and graduate school and transitioning in and out of school. She spent three years training at college counseling centers (University of Chicago and University of Southern California) and enjoys supporting individuals as they learn and grow during this stage of life.

Dr. Gooden is trained in several therapeutic approaches and utilizes The Family Institute’s integrative approach to treating clients. Dr. Gooden is genuine, empathic, and committed to promoting insight and growth among her clients.

To read Dr. Gooden’s full bio or to make an appointment, please visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about us on our website.

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