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Supporting Your Student During Times of Change

Change is constant, and 2020 has been full of even more and unusual changes than perhaps any other time in our lives. With schedule changes, openings and closings, and daily news reports, what we think we know today is often not the case the next day.

Our students began to prepare for the academic year, with many making the big move from home to college for the first time, but then learned the plan changed. That’s stressful! Transitions can be a challenge, but they don’t have to be impossible to manage. Understanding the transition and learning how to adapt to changes and cope with the new reality of each day can help your student succeed at UMassD.

Transitions can come in several forms, as identified by researcher and author, Nancy K. Schlossberg, Ed.D. Knowing the type of transition you are currently in can inform how to manage those transitions successfully. 

  • Anticipated transitions: ones that occur predictably, such as graduation from college
  • Unanticipated transitions: not predictable or scheduled, such as divorce or sudden death of a loved one
  • Non-events: transitions that were expected but do not occur, such as failure to be admitted to medical school

This year, students and families are experiencing all of these transitions, with the added anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning for college is both an exciting and anxious time any year, but in 2020, the health concerns make this a stressful transition. Classes are now remote (with the exception of labs) and the excitement of living with friends in the residence halls is replaced with disappointment. Other students may have been forced to take a closer look at their ability to attend college due to health issues, access, or financial need. So how does a student find a way to manage this stress and be successful?

Dr. Schlossberg suggests focusing on the “4 Ss” to successfully negotiate through the transition. 

  • What is the situation?
  • Is there support?
  • Who is the person (self)?
  • What are strategies to manage this transition or change?

Getting through this situation—attending classes remotely versus in person—requires a plan. One student’s coping plan may be drastically different from another’s based on their other three “S” factors. Does the student have emotional and financial support from their family? What about support from peers? From faculty and staff? Is the student aware of campus supports such as Health Services; Housing & Residential Education; Counseling Center? It is important for students—even those learning through remote modalities—to know what services are available and how to access them. 

Who is the person, the self? Is your student confident, self-motivated, and curious? Or quieter, less independent, and more comfortable learning by watching others? Is your student somewhere in-between? Whatever personality your student has, you can support your student by helping them define what their questions are. If you can help your student identify their needs and questions then finding the right resources to address those questions will be easier. Posing the questions and seeking the answers themselves leads to confidence in their own abilities to find their way at college. They often are better able to adapt and seek help the next time they need to solve a problem. 

Finally, develop strategies for how to manage this transition and future changes. At UMassD, events, services, and processes are made available to help your student succeed. Fully participating in a student orientation program for first-year or transfer students is essential to a smoother transition. Finding student employment on campus can help reduce their financial burden and loans. An on-campus job allows the student to schedule work around their class schedule and help them get to know more people, including staff who can help direct them to resources when they need them. Student clubs and organizations help students build friendships and peer support systems that are essential to having a positive college experience. 

Whoever your student is, however they are experiencing college this fall, it is important that they feel your support during this time. Encourage your student to get the answers for themselves, even if your first inclination is to find it for them. Teach them they are capable of being independent. Your trust in their abilities is empowering.

For more information on resources for you and your student at UMass Dartmouth, please see: