Carnegie Mellon University

Photo of three CMU graduates holding their decorated graduation caps

May 30, 2018

Helping Your Child Make the Transition from College to the “Real World”

Mandi Semple
  • Director of Marketing, Student Affairs
  • 412-268-3437

With graduation a few weeks away, another transition is upon both you and your child. The Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) offers some ideas for parents looking to help their children (and our students) make this shift to the next stage in life.

Challenge and Support

From the beginning, you have challenged and supported your child. You let go of their hands so they could take their first wobbly steps, all the time ready to catch them and prevent them from falling too hard. Think back to teaching your child how to ride a bicycle—a classic example of simultaneous challenge and support. The “challenge/support” approach will continue as they graduate and begin the next phase of life.

If your child is in a job search, applying to graduate school or taking some time off before the next stage, the “challenge/support” model is important. Discouraging your child from spending all day in the house (instead of reaching out to or meeting with networking contacts) is difficult, but that push to action could be the catalyst that leads to a job interview. Your support is needed as rejections from graduate schools and employers can cause your child to doubt their abilities.

The same approach holds true as your child transitions to the next phase. Allowing your child to solve more complex problems without inserting yourself, or being pulled in, is important. Whether buying a car, leasing an apartment, navigating a new city or any of a thousand challenges graduates will face, encourage graduates to make independent decisions with the knowledge that you are available as a resource. Steering your child away from a horrible decision is different than making the decision for someone. You will not agree with every choice, but your child needs to own their decisions to develop into adulthood.

Create Routines

Transitions are times of increased stress—graduating from college, moving and leaving friends will be unsettling. To help your child handle the inherent pressure, encourage the creation of routines. Establishing an exercise schedule, setting a weekly meeting time with friends to socialize or instituting a regular laundry and grocery shopping time can help your child deal with the strain of the transition.

Routines are especially important for those in a job or graduate school search. It is too easy for your child to procrastinate by thinking he has ample time to submit an application or reach out to a contact. Encouraging routines provides the structure that has been present in their lives for the past 20+ years.

Invest in Relationships

Moving to a new city, school or back home can be a lonely time. Encourage your grad to invest in making new relationships and maintaining established ones. Going to lunch with people at the new office is a way to make connections in a new city in addition to being a wise career strategy. If your child is moving back home, she should arrange times to meet with professional contacts (former co-workers and supervisors, alumni, community contacts, etc.) as well as time with friends to socialize.

Too often, graduates who are still identifying their next step have a tendency to avoid social interactions. This isolation comes at a time when they need to be interacting with others to help them get noticed for potential job opportunities. Challenge your child to get out of the house and meet with others, while supporting them in what can be an uncomfortable time.

Transitions are hard for both parents and new graduates. Take heart—you have navigated other changes with your child and you will navigate this one as well.