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A Conversation on Mental Health: How Parents and Guardians Can Support Their Students in High School for Success in College

Picture of Sam Joustra
By Sam Joustra on May, 28 2024 | 8 minute read

How can you successfully support your student in high school for success in college? Learn more from our conversation with Marjorie Seidenfeld about college counseling, mental health, and transitioning to college.


The topic of mental health has become even more important in college counseling. As counselors, we work with young adults in the midst of one of the most transitional times of their lives. It’s an important period of intellectual, social, and emotional growth, and a time of many “firsts.” For many students, going to college may be the first time they’re living away from home for a significant time. As a Collegewise counselor, I help students navigate the many decisions they’ll make as high school students– academic and otherwise– and help them understand how those decisions inform their futures, in college and beyond. As we help students prepare for success in college, part of that work is helping them understand the many support services that are available to them once they land on campus, including academic, career, and mental health services. This blog post, a conversation with Marjorie Seidenfeld, MD, an Adolescent Medicine specialist with extensive experience in college health, is designed to equip parents and guardians with the necessary tools to help their students have the best possible launch to college.


Marjorie Seidenfeld, MD spent many years as the Medical Director of the Primary Care Health Service at Barnard College in Manhattan. While working intimately with students there, she observed that many of them struggled to balance complex medical and/or mental health issues with the challenges of the rigorous social and academic life at Barnard. As a result of her observations, she founded EmpowerUny, a clinical college guidance service with the mission of empowering high school students with the independence skills she felt would strengthen their ability to thrive on campus. Here, Marjorie shares the many lessons she’s learned from her students at Barnard.


Question: In your experience, what have you seen as some of the biggest mental health challenges for students in college?

“By far,” Marjorie begins, “the most common challenges for students at this moment are in the realm of mental health - and more specifically, anxiety and depression. We were becoming concerned about mental health in our college students long before the pandemic, but certainly the onset of Covid and the isolation that was necessitated by it both highlighted and exacerbated these issues. I would add that disordered eating and eating disorders have also grown in numbers and are of great concern as well.”

Marjorie believes that one of the biggest contributing factors to this growing wave of anxiety is that students are arriving at college without the necessary skills to care for themselves, including the ability to manage their time or money, schedule appointments for themselves, or even do their own laundry. She says, “So while they are trying to adjust to life as college students–living with a roommate for the first time, balancing more intense academics, navigating the dining halls, and more–they are also learning the basics of caring for themselves. Many are just overwhelmed by having to adjust to all of these new tasks simultaneously. It’s a lot!”


Question: What are some skills or habits students can learn and build on in high school?

What I learned from the students I worked with,” Marjorie begins, “was that those who had already learned life skills fared much better than those who hadn’t. These students were able to focus on the wonderful opportunities that college provided, rather than worrying about trying to catch up on learning the basics of ‘Adulting 101.’”

For example, learning how to do laundry in high school can be a great start. Marjorie states, “Not only will your student learn how to avoid shrunken sweaters and the bleeding of colors onto their whites, but they will also learn great time management in order to keep up with having clean clothing each week. And if they do this regularly, it becomes a habit or second nature, so that it will not be yet another thing they’ll have to get used to when they do go off to college.”

Learning these and other basic skills now is essential to preparing for an easier transition, including:

  • Waking themselves up in the morning (and not relying on you, the parent, to be there as a backup)
  • Cleaning their own room or desk area
  • Learning how to cook small, balanced meals
  • Doing their own laundry on a regular basis
  • Managing their own time and schedule
  • Self-advocating in school with administrators and teachers
  • Making travel plans and navigating directions in a new city
  • Budgeting and learning how to manage a bank account
  • Managing their own medications/treatments
  • Scheduling their own appointments for doctors, therapists, dentists, and more

Marjorie underscores two important things to note with this: “The first,” she says, “is that you cannot expect your child to do all of this at once. They will become overwhelmed and reject it all. Take it slow, allow them to see that they can succeed at one, and watch them build confidence as they take on each new task in a stepwise manner.”

The second is that you cannot rescue them if they fail (which can be a hard impulse to fight!). Marjorie says, “It is our parental inclination to catch our children if they fall. We’ve been doing this since they were in diapers, and it is habit; however, if we continue to do this, they receive the message (whether we intend it or not) that they are incapable of doing things for themselves, and that increases their anxiety. Moreover, they learn that they need not learn to do things for themselves, because we will be there to take over. But if they are off in college, we are not there, right?”

High school and the transition to college is an important time for students to learn how to fail and that if they fail, they will survive. It takes time and practice to learn skills like self-soothing, problem-solving, how to pick themselves up, and how to adapt when things don’t go as planned. And the earlier students learn these skills, the more resilient they’ll be when they encounter obstacles in college and beyond.


Question: What advice do you have for helping students connect with on- or off-campus mental health resources? And when should you do this?

Marjorie reminds us that the student should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to seeking mental health resources. While parents can give tips and guidance, Marjorie states that students “will learn so much by making these calls, sending these emails, and doing the legwork of finding their provider themselves. Above all, they will have the satisfaction that they did this themselves.”

Another valuable resource, especially for a student who might be in therapy or any kind of treatment, is their current health providers, who might be able to recommend a practitioner local to the student’s college. The college or university’s counseling services are a great resource, too. Most university counseling offices only offer short-term services, limiting the number of sessions a student can book each term or year. Marjorie adds, “Usually they will extend this for emergency situations, but if there is a chronic issue, your student will likely be referred to an outside therapist.”

But while many only provide short-term counseling (which is often subsidized or even free), there may be more options available. The school may be able to refer you to a provider for longer-term therapy. Having a referral for support outside the university may help your child have even more tailored support given their mental health needs, as well as their personality and insurance eligibility.

If you need help knowing where to start locating mental health practitioners, Marjorie shares, “Psychology Today has an online resource to help locate mental health providers in almost every area of the country. This can be incredibly helpful in finding a therapist no matter where you may be located. And many provide a telehealth option as well, to increase access to students. There are also online options, such as Caraway Health and Charlie Health which provide virtual therapy, which, for college students, might be a very convenient choice.”


Question: What are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to campus mental health resources?

Marjorie shares these important tips:

  • As soon as your child knows where they are going to college, they should begin their search for a provider–sometimes this process can take weeks or months. As we often do when searching for any type of medical provider, it can come down to who feels like the best “fit” for you, and you want to make sure your child works with someone that they are happy and comfortable with.
  • The more information the student has, the better, including information about their health insurance. Marjorie reflects, “It was shocking to me how many students at Barnard assumed that if they had health insurance, that everything would be paid for. (Oh, if only!) Explain to your child what is covered by your plan and what is not, what some of the terms mean (“in-network,” “deductible,” “copay,” and “co-insurance,” for example) and whether you require a separate card for prescriptions.” It’s also important to remind your child to carry their insurance card on them at all times.
  • Explore the college’s health insurance plan. Sometimes, these plans may actually be less expensive and can offer surprisingly comprehensive coverage. Depending on your coverage, it may be worthwhile for your child to carry both plans.

Question: What advice do you have for parents as they help their students navigate the transition to college?

Marjorie recalls an interview on NPR she heard years ago where the interview used the phrase, Step back to step in. “I think this sums it up!” she says. “If you’d like your child to succeed, give them the space–and show them you have confidence in them–to do so on their own, even at the risk of failure. They will learn that they will not fall apart, but that they will grow from that. As long as they have learned self care skills (whether deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, exercise, sleep, calling on a friend, using a creative outlet - whatever works for them), they will be ok.”

It’s still important that you (and your child) have the contact information for your child’s college’s resources at hand, including the phone numbers of Health Services, Counseling Center, Public Safety Office, Residential Life, and others, should a true emergency arise. As Marjorie adds, “It is always beneficial to have those numbers ahead of time, sort of like carrying an umbrella: if you have them, hopefully it will mean you will never have to use them!”


This may feel like a lot to digest, but Marjorie is here to help. She shares emphatically, “If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this–and you may be, as it is a huge transition for parents as well as for your children! I am happy to help. After meeting with you and your student, I can provide a tailored, structured guidance plan for you and your child to ensure that you cover all of these crucial areas to prepare thoroughly for the transition to college. We would prepare in these areas and more, in a gradual, calm manner, and I would be able to nudge your child to accomplish these tasks rather than you having to do so. If you are interested, please email me at”


About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the family. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for your student to be their best self - whether in the classroom, the applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, lead to 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


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