I’m Worried My Student Isn’t Ready for College: CU Boulder Edition

As you prepare to send your child to CU Boulder, it’s natural to experience the full range of emotions—from pride, to excitement, to a healthy dose of concern. We’re going to provide you with concrete strategies to support your student’s transition to college life: focusing on academic success, overall well-being, and navigating the challenges they may face. 

Understanding the CU Boulder Experience

Before we dive into specific advice, it’s important to understand how students at CU have done in the past. Recent data paints an interesting picture of the student journey:

  • 57.5% of students graduate within four years (Daily Camera)
  • 72% complete their degrees within six years (Data USA)

These statistics reflect the hurdles many students face in their initial years, often due to challenges with navigating independence and the distractions that come with campus life. The gap between four-year and six-year graduation rates highlights an important reality: the transition to college life is often messy, and that’s okay.

Contributing factors to graduation rates:

  • Adjusting to the difficulty of college-level academics
  • Learning to balance social life and fun with schoolwork
  • Managing time and responsibilities independently

Understanding these challenges can help you set realistic expectations with your upcoming freshman and provide support. Below are areas where your guidance can make a significant difference during the transition:

1. Time Management: The Foundation of College

Effective time management is a fundamental contributor to academic success at CU Boulder. The freedom of college life can be exhilarating, but it also requires a new level of self-discipline. Here are some strategies to help your student with structuring their time:

Developing An Organizational System: 

Before your student leaves for school, they should have a basic organizational system. It will improve and become more sophisticated as college progresses, so it does not need to be perfect. Help them become familiar with tools like Google Calendar or planner apps, which can be used across devices.

  • Calendar & Reminders: Help them find a calendar to track class schedules, deadlines, and extracurricular activities. Apps that sync across devices can provide timely reminders for upcoming events and are great for students with organizational challenges. If they use a paper planner, begin to set that up with them before they leave for Boulder.
  • Review of the Organizational System: Encourage your student to review their organizational system daily to stay on top of responsibilities. Remind them that forgetting tasks is normal when implementing a new system. Encourage patience and view these instances as learning opportunities. Help them develop the habit of assessing where things went wrong and brainstorming improvements. This process fosters organizational skills and a growth mindset.
  • Before school begins, they should have an organizational system to organize:
    • Assignments 
    • Deadlines 
    • Appointments 
    • To Dos (laundry, exercise classes, etc)
  • Use Office Hours Strategically: Encourage regular professor and TA office hours attendance. This one-on-one time can significantly enhance understanding of course material, clarify assignments, and even build valuable professional relationships. However, most don’t realize this is a great time management tool. Office hours decrease procrastination and increase feedback loops. 

2. Maximizing Campus Resources: Providing Support

The University of Colorado Boulder offers many resources to support student academic and personal success. When touring the campus, parents get excited about the many resources the school offers. However, many students fail to take advantage of these resources because they are unaware of how to access them or because they underestimate their value.

  • Academic Support: Encourage your student to utilize tutoring services, attend professor and TA office hours, and create study groups. These resources can provide academic support and help clarify difficult concepts. Different majors and departments offer different resources, which can sometimes become challenging. 
  • Mental Health Services: CU Boulder provides mental health services through CAPS (Counseling and Psychiatric Services). Emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 
  • Center for Student Involvement: The Center for Student Involvement can help students find clubs and activities that match their interests, build a social network, and engage with campus life. Students who are involved on campus perform much better academically and with time management than those who aren’t. 

Note: If your student thinks they may use a resource frequently, bookmark the scheduling website for quick access (especially if anxiety is challenging).

3. Movement and Sleep: Focus on the Basics 

During the fun and challenging transition, exercise and sleep are often sacrificed. However, regular physical activity and consistent sleep patterns are needed for learning and overall well-being:

Encouraging Movement for Learning and Stress Reduction 

Here is how to support your student with movement: 

  • Remind them of the benefits of movement for learning and reducing stress. Explain that even small amounts of activity can make a big difference in focus and stress levels.
  • Recognize that the CU Rec Center can be intimidating for some students (especially freshmen). If this is the case, encourage alternatives like:
    • Joining a beginner-friendly movement class at the Rec like yoga, HITT, etc 
    • Taking a longer, scenic route when walking to classes
    • Exploring local gyms that might feel less overwhelming
  • Remind them that movement doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial. A short walk in nature or a gentle yoga session can be just as valuable for learning and stress relief as a high-intensity workout.

Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits in a New Environment:

College often marks the first time students are fully responsible for their sleep habits, often in a new environment, sleeping in a room with someone they recently met. Here’s how you can help:

  • Discuss the importance of a consistent sleep schedule (during school days) for memory and learning. Remind them that adequate sleep leads to better academic performance and more energy for fun with friends.
  • Acknowledge the challenges of sleeping in a new place, possibly with a roommate. Encourage open communication with roommates about sleep preferences and schedules. Role-play the conversation with the roommate if needed.
  • Help them develop a bedtime routine that signals to their body it’s time to wind down. This might include:
    • Dimming lights
    • Avoiding screens for at least 30 minutes before bed
    • Engaging in relaxing activities like reading or listening to music.
  • Discuss strategies for managing phone use before bed. This might be their first time having to self-regulate their screen time, and we see many students fall into this trap. As parents, we can only give guidance, and they may need to make mistakes to learn. 

4. Fostering Independence: A Challenging Balance for Parents

Transitioning from high school to college is often the biggest change in our lives. Here’s how you can support your student while improving their independence:

“I Do, We Do, You Do” Model: 

A popular approach by teachers, parents can this approach for teaching life skills:

Step 1. Demonstrate the task (I Do)

Step 2. Perform the task together (We Do)

Step 3. Allow independent performance with support as needed (You Do)

This model can be applied to everything from laundry to creating a budget.

Allow for Failure: Remember that some failures are important learning experiences. Resist the urge to swoop in and solve every problem. Instead, guide your child through finding solutions and remind them that failure is part of the process. 

Discuss Homesickness: Discuss strategies for coping with homesickness (this usually begins about a month in first semester):

  • Encourage involvement in campus activities
  • Help them with routines for comfort but also to embrace what they are feeling
  • Remind them that feeling homesick is normal and temporary
  • Assure them that social media isn’t always reality and to not compare themselves to their friends they see on social media

5. Academic Routines: The Key to Academic Success

One of the biggest adjustments is learning to manage free time effectively. High school often has a structured schedule with classes, homework, and extracurricular activities. In college, the increased flexibility can be overwhelming without proper planning. Here are ways to help your student learn to structure their time:

Attend Office Hours Regularly: This was mentioned earlier in the blog, but we can’t emphasize it enough. This one-on-one time can deepen understanding of course material and build valuable relationships with professors. This is a foundational routine for many to be successful. 

Prioritizing Tasks: Help your student understand the importance of prioritizing tasks based on deadlines and the weight of the grade. Many students feel overwhelmed because they tend to prioritize every task equally. Teach them to identify urgent and important tasks and to tackle those first. This is an underrated skill in managing anxiety. 

Draft Email Scripts: Put a draft email in their inbox of a sample of how to communicate with professors or TAs. This will reduce stress and help them advocate in a kind and clear way. Include examples for common scenarios like requesting clarification on an assignment, arranging a meeting, or discussing a grade. Having these templates readily available can boost your student’s confidence in professional communication and ensure they maintain positive relationships with faculty and staff.

6. The Power of Positive Reinforcement: Cheerleading From a Distance

Your encouragement and support are important to your student’s confidence and success. Growth is hard, and they will need a cheerleader. Here is what we have seen work:

Recognize Their Efforts: Acknowledge your student’s big and small efforts. Celebrate the process. In the long term, this is much more important than the outcomes.

Encourage a Growth Mindset: Frame challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. Help your student see setbacks as temporary and surmountable.

Normalize Challenges: Remind them that feeling stressed or overwhelmed will happen. Share your own experiences of overcoming obstacles.

Provide Support: Listen without judgment and offer empathy. Sometimes, just being heard can be all your child needs.

7. Staying Connected: Finding the Right Balance

Maintaining communication with your student is important, but finding the right balance between support and independence is challenging. Here are some tips:

Scheduled Check-ins: Consider setting up regular check-ins, such as calls every Tuesday and Sunday night at 6 p.m. This provides a safety net and can reduce anxiety for you and your student. Be open to adjusting the frequency and timing of these check-ins as your student settles into their new routine. Some weeks, they may need more support, while other times, they will be having too much fun.

Quality over Quantity: Make your communications meaningful. Ask open-ended questions about their experiences, challenges, and achievements. 

Respect Their Independence: Avoid the temptation to check in constantly. Trust that your child will reach out if they need support. This is a challenge for many parents. 

Embracing the Journey: 

As you navigate this transition together, remember that becoming independent is a process. There will be successes and challenges along the way. The parent’s role is to offer support and guidance while allowing your student to chart their own course and make their decisions. 

CU Boulder is about more than just earning a degree. It’s about personal growth, discovering passions, and developing the skills to succeed after their time in Boulder is done. Your student can overcome challenges and thrive with the right preparation and support.


Need Additional Support?

If you believe your student needs additional support in navigating the transition to college life, we’re here to help. 

Untapped Learning is led by CU graduates who intimately understand the challenges and opportunities of the CU Boulder experience. Our 1 on 1 coaching can help your student:

  • Develop effective study habits tailored to college-level coursework
  • Improve your time management skills to balance academics, social life, and self-care, and have more free time for fun in Boulder.
  • Build confidence in navigating college and independence
  • Overcome specific challenges they may encounter during their freshman year

Contact Untapped Learning today to learn more about how we can support your student during the transition. Together, we can ensure your student survives and thrives at CU Boulder.

Parenting a child who struggles with executive function can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Let Untapped help!

For More: 

How Parents Can Support the Adjustment to College

Problems College Students Face and How To Overcome Them

Tips for Making the Transition

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