Emotional readiness for college

Academic ability and extracurricular achievements are not always enough to make the transition to college a smooth process (“Is Your Child Emotionally Ready for College?” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 24).  If they were, then mental illness on college campuses wouldn’t be nearly as high, with a third receiving treatment at campus counseling centers.

Going off to college has always been fraught with the possibility of emotional disorders because it is the first time that young people live without adult supervision.  But what is new today are the numbers of students who seek out treatment.

There are many factors, including high rates of divorce among parents and income insecurity.  Yet I think the major cause is the unrelenting pressure to excel that so many young people have felt since the time they entered preschool. Parents have a hard time finding a healthy balance between hovering and neglect.  As a result, students are at a loss when left to their own devices.

Colleges and universities today recognize that the old sink-or-swim policy is unnecessarily harsh, particularly when they enroll so many students from diverse backgrounds.  I hope they continue to recognize how counterproductive the former philosophy is.

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4 Replies to “Emotional readiness for college”

  1. Several additional factors are probably contributing to the dramatic increase in the number of college students seeking mental illness treatment or at least psychological counseling.

    1. Colleges have dramatically increased the amount of mental health/psychological counseling services. Having adequate resources re these areas is now pretty much expected at most colleges + colleges are at least somewhat concerned re potentially being sued if a student seeks counseling, is unable to access counseling, and then harms him/herself or others. Fifty years ago, colleges did not consider such counseling to be a necessary service.

    2. It’s become socially acceptable to seek mental health/psychological counseling services. There may still be a stigma, but if so it is much less than 50 or even 20 years ago. At some colleges and in some social groups at most colleges it has even become almost “cool” to seek counseling.

    3. It is now socially acceptable at many — probably most — colleges to come out as gay, lesbian, or bi. For all those students whose mental health/psychological issues are related in some way to the student’s sexual identity, it has now become socially acceptable to disclose the student’s sexual identity — at least to the mental health professional. Fifty or even 20 years ago, the overwhelming majority of gay students who felt a need to see a counselor — even for issues unrelated to sexual identity — would have refrained from seeking counseling for fear of having to disclose the sexual identity issue to the counselor.

    4. The dramatic increase in the number of elementary and high school students who take prescription psychological meds — including all those ADD and ADHD students. Fifty years ago virtually no elementary or high school students took any prescription psychological meds. Students who have been taking psychological meds for years before college are used to seeing medical professionals re psychological issues. Continuing to do so at college is just like continuing any other pre-college activity.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Correct! It’s a completely different era on campuses from decades ago. The transition from high school to college, however, hasn’t always been smooth. Prep school students were for the most part able to make the transition more easily than public school students because they had been living away from home for several years. Then there’s the litigation issue, which I don’t remember being so prominent when I was at UPenn. The only services offered were for physical problems at the school’s clinic.


  3. Cornell might have offered psychological counseling in the late ’60s when I was an undergraduate, but if so I have no recollection of anyone ever using the counseling or of the daily college newspaper (that I worked on) writing articles re counseling services, their adequacy or inadequacy. And I do recall students using the college health clinic for medical problems, student discussions re how incompetent the clinic docs/RNs were, and newspaper articles re how Cornell was exploring how to increase the quantity/quality of the clinic services (but that was always in the context of traditional medical services rather than mental health services).


  4. Labor Lawyer: UPenn had a world-class hospital and clinic when I was an undergrad there in the late 1950s. But like you, I don’t remember anyone using it for anything except physical ills. There was still a great stigma attached to emotional disorders. It still exists but not to the same degree.


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