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Advice on preparing your child for college

What do parents wish they had known before their children headed off to university in another country? What advice would they give to other parents preparing to make that step?

The UWCSEA University Advising team provide expertise and answers to a wide range of concerns for parents with children flying the nest. Some of these are unique to Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) – others are universal. The important thing to know is you and your child are not alone!

University field
Is your teenager considering college soon? How will they cope…and how will you?

Putting the change in context
All of us who raise our children overseas have weighed up the pros and cons of expat life. The benefits are shared adventures, exposure to new cultures, and travel to places that would have been impossible if we had stayed at home. These are all stimulating and rewarding experiences that make our children confident citizens of the world and bring families closer together.

However, complications can arise when TCK’s go off to university, typically on the other side of the world, in a foreign country. Even for students returning to their passport country, some degree of reverse culture shock is inevitable.

Academic adjustment
The IB Diploma is a really good university preparation programme, and surveys suggest that students who have successfully completed an IB Diploma are generally very well-prepared academically and rarely find the work too difficult conceptually. They are also a step ahead of peers who may have never done an independent investigation or research paper. However, what can be surprising is that they are expected to cover so much of the reading on their own and the time it takes to do this – for every course they are taking!

At the same time that they are transitioning into the academic culture, students are also learning the skills they need as self-reliant adults. Time management is one of the biggest challenges that our alumni talk about in their first year. At school, their time is very structured and parents and teachers are monitoring their progress – so the independence and autonomy of university life can be difficult at first.

Washing clothes at university
Some college-goers may find domestic chores hard to navigate after years of having in-house domestic help!

Life skills
Your child will need to learn how to organise relatively unstructured days, juggling academic responsibilities with domestic chores that may be new to them.

Some basic cooking, cleaning and self-organisation skills can help your child to manage on their own. This is especially true for children who have grown up with domestic help. The key is to make sure they know a few basic recipes and how to do laundry.

If your child has grown up in a relatively protected environment there are also safety and security concerns to be addressed. Do not shy away from talking with your child about strategies to deal with safety issues – they will need to know how to keep themselves safe. As unwelcome and uncomfortable as the conversation may be, ensure your child knows how to stay safe at parties, understands how to travel safely at night and knows where to turn if they have concerns. Even something as basic as reminding them about the emergency number to call is important, as this varies from country to country.

Set a budget for your child and ensure they know how to manage their own finances.

Housing: We strongly recommend that your child stay in university accommodation for the first year. This is for both practical reasons (it’s easier to arrange in most cases) and for the social and emotional support network it will enable them to create.

Ensure your child knows how they can arrange a visit to the doctor. Arrange medical insurance and let them know the claim procedure. Check on the coverage of any university health insurance policy; you may want to top it up with private insurance.

Your child may need to shop for a winter wardrobe (sometimes for the first time!) and you will want to buy some items to make the dorm room more comfortable.

Also make sure your child knows the laws of the country including the drinking age and legal alcohol limits for driving.

University park
Encourage your child to join a group or organisation, and to ” get involved”!

Social and emotional adjustment
The critical key for your child’s successful transition at college is for them to join a group or organisation right away so they can feel like they ‘belong’ somewhere.

Another tip is to join the Facebook community for the incoming class – many of our students have made friends and ‘met’ their roommates online, even before they arrive on campus.

Be aware that as a parent, you will also need to cope with your own sense of loss as your child moves away and may need to put steps in place for your own support. You can do this in parallel with your child by making sure you talk about university preparations together. There are a number of books that you and your child can read together (see recommended reading list on UWCSEA’s What’s Next blog). Our alumni parents recommend staying in touch with parents of your child’s friends, who will in many instances be in the same situation.

'The Hub' at university
Head to UWCSEA’s blog: What Next? University Advice for Expat Parents  to get more advice on the transition to college for your child and yourself.

Further reading
While there might be hiccups along the way, the vast majority of students end up loving their colleges by the end of the first year. The key is preparation and trust.

You can find the full length version of this article, which contains a handy list of recommended reading on the topic (useful for all TCK parents, whatever the age of your children) on UWCSEA’s blog: What Next? University Advice for Expat Parents

UWCSEA’s team of university advisors support the students in the High School on both campuses through a personalised programme of advice and support as they explore university options around the globe.


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East Campus, 1 Tampines Street 73 | 6305 5344


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