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Action Steps

Helping Students Make the Transition

In late spring and summer, some candidates who recently were ecstatic about accepting spots at their dream schools become more reserved when talking about plans for next year. At some point between replying to a school's acceptance in April and reporting to campus in September, many students experience a classic case of what adults recognize as "cold feet." This does not mean students have changed their minds about the schools they have chosen. Rather, they are just working through the natural set of emotions that accompanies one of the biggest transitions of their young lives. These strategies can help students calm their nerves:

  1. Acknowledge the student's feelings. Being nervous about leaving a known, familiar environment and close-knit friendships is natural for anyone, and such feelings are particularly strong among young teens. Teachers can tell you they witness this phenomenon every year, regardless of where students are headed next. By validating these feelings, parents let children know that change—and being anxious about change—is a normal part of life.
  2. Reassure students that they are ready for the next step. A student's placement at a boarding school represents months of thoughtful introspection and sustained effort to research schools, complete applications, and make decisions. Students must be as brave as they are accomplished to take such ownership over their educations. If they weren't ready to take on the challenges of boarding school, then they likely would not have completed this process.
  3. Remind students: The school believes in them. Admission officers selected the student because they believe he or she will thrive in that specific educational environment. Offering students a place in a class roster is a school's way of saying, "You will fit in and succeed here." Remembering that the school "wants" them can be a confidence booster for students.
  4. Review the unique opportunities. You and your student chose this style of education because boarding environments offer premium educational experiences and opportunities that aren't available elsewhere. Revisiting what drew students to a school can help them focus on the future, rather than the past.
  5. Take advantage of summer options to build confidence. If students have not been away from home or family before, then summer programs offer many opportunities to exercise their emerging independence on a smaller scale. A ten-day outdoor adventure excursion, for example, can reinforce leadership skills and confidence. Many schools offer academic enrichment programs with a boarding component that simulates the daily routine of the academic year. If a student does such a program at the school they will attend in the fall, then they can familiarize themselves with the campus, learn the dining hall system down pat, and possibly even meet a future teacher. What may seem like logistics of lesser importance can help students come into their first year self-assured in their new environment.


As students work through their "jitters," they will be poised to reap the rewards of the exciting path they have chosen.

Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at