Responding to Students with Transition Issues

Facts about transitions:

  • Transitions are times of change that usually involve both loss and opportunity.
  • Entering college is one of life’s most demanding transitions; arguably the most significant transition since the start of kindergarten.
  • College students face many challenging transitions including graduating and entering the work force.
  • The changes inherent in a transition can produce stress and challenge a student’s coping resources.
  • Students can experience a decline in functioning (academic, social, emotional) during transitions.
  • Transition stress can be compounded by counterproductive coping mechanisms such as avoidance of stress-producing situations and people, excessive partying, denial of academic workload and alcohol abuse.
  • Transitions can pose greater problems to students who have existing psychological problems or difficult life circumstances.
  • Students going through a transition can benefit from counseling to enhance their coping efforts and prevent the onset of serious problems.

Signs that a student is having transition problems include:

  • Anxiety symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, tearfulness, and sleep problems.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Difficulty managing responsibilities or relationships.
  • Homesickness that goes on for a significant period of time.

What You Can Do

  • Convey to the student that transition stress is normal and often brings a temporary decline in performance (“Making the transition to college can be difficult and so what you are experiencing can simply be a normal reaction, but let’s watch it to make sure it doesn’t last too long”).
  • Encourage that student to use positive coping strategies to manage transition stress including: regular exercise, use of social support, a reasonable eating and sleeping regimen, and scheduling pleasurable activities (“Tell me what you have done in the past that worked when things have been tough”).
  • For students approaching graduation, a referral to UConn Senior may be helpful (860-486-3013).
  • Refer the students to CMHS (860-486-4705) if performance problems persist beyond a reasonable amount of time, or if the symptoms are acute, or if the student feels he/she could benefit by talking with someone about it.


  • Assuming that the student understands the impact of transitions and is aware of the source of stress.
  • Minimizing or trivializing the student’s feelings and reactions (“This is perfectly okay and will pass. I wouldn’t worry about it”).
  • Discounting or overlooking factors that put the student at risk of more serious problems (“Everyone goes through this and I am sure it is nothing to worry about”).