College Transition Initiative

Welcome to the blog of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding’s (CPYU) College Transition Initiative (CTI). This site contains commentary on transitional issues, exploring research, trends and college student culture. For more information visit:

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Location: Elizabethtown, PA, United States

The transition from high school to college is a difficult one, and yet, it is a transition that is often overlooked. This site is to help college bound students, parents, and youth workers stay up to date on the latest research and trends in regards to college transition. Your comments are greatly appreciated. Join the conversation!

Friday, January 27, 2006


Today I arrived at my desk to find a print out of lyrics of a song by Steve Taylor. One of my co-workers must have thought that the lyrics were germane to my work on college transition. The song comes from Taylor’s 1987 album, I Predict, and is entitled, “Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better.”

(It immediately reminded of Steve Turner’s important poem, “Creed.” You can read it and re-read it here. Enjoy!)

Commenting on his song, Taylor suggests that it is “a rather satirical song (something of a departure for me, don't you think?), this one takes a look through the wide eyes of a college freshman at existentialism and nihilism, the philosophies that fuel much of contemporary American thought.”

Here are the lyrics… something to ponder over the weekend:

Enter the young idealist
chasing dragons to slay
exit the hustler
packing up his M.B.A.

Freshmen scream in a classroom
was there a sound?
first degree in the vacuum
I'm on college ground

Took a class
big fun
modern ethics 101
first day learn why
ethics really don't apply
Prof says, "One trait
takes us to a higher state
drug free, pure bliss
get your pencils, copy this:

"Life unwinds like a cheap sweater
but since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
and the truth gets blurred like a wet letter
but since I gave up hope I feel a lot better"

Top of the class sits Ernest
he was brightest and best
till the professor lured him
to the hopeless nest

Now he lives for the shortcut
like a citizen should
tells the class with a wink
"only the young die good."

He says, "Ideals? Uncouth.
fatalism needs youth
eat well, floss right
keep the hungry out of sight
save face--nip and tuck
praise yourself and pass the buck
don't forget the best advice
everybody's got a price

"Life unwinds like a cheap sweater
but since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
and the truth gets blurred like a wet letter
but since I gave up hope I feel a lot better

"While the world winds down to a final prayer
nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
I predict by dinner I won't even care
since I gave up hope I feel a lot better"

Nazis plead in a courtroom
"Pardon me, boys"
profits fall in a boardroom
did they make a noise?

Someone spreads an affliction
company's nice
someone sells an addiction
puts your soul on ice

Half wits knock heads
candidates in double beds
good guys defect
"I can't precisely recollect"
teacher's pet theory's fine
if you're born without a spine
can't you spell wrong?
sing it to him Papa John

Monday, January 23, 2006


While this blog is primarily dedicated to assisting those charged with the task of helping students transition from high school to college, I thought I’d pass along some beneficial new research on another transition: the transition from college to the “real world.”

The research was conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), “an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important social issues.” The important social issue this time: the literacy of America’s college students. From the executive summary:
“Rapid changes in technology make it necessary for adults of all ages to use written information in new and more complex ways. For example, learning how to operate computers, filling out complicated tax forms, and comparing price labels when shopping for groceries are just a few of the many tasks that are important parts of our lives. Every adult needs a range of literacy skills to achieve his or her personal goals, pursue a successful career, and play an active role as a citizen. High levels of literacy also enable individuals to keep pace with changing educational expectations and technologies and support the aspirations of their families.

With the recent attention on accountability measures for elementary and secondary schools, accountability in institutions of higher education has been all but overlooked. The National Survey of America's College Students (NSACS) is a study that examines the literacy of U.S. college students, providing information on how prepared these students are to continue to learn and use the skills that they will need in the years to come.”

You can read a complete overview of the research and the findings here.

For a good introduction, Ben Feller of the Associated Press offers a helpful summary of the data at Yahoo News. Feller writes:

“More than half of students at four-year colleges — and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges — lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers, a study found...

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

Without "proficient" skills, or those needed to perform more complex tasks, students fall behind. They cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.”

What interests me most is AIR’s focus on accountability. We always seem to be criticizing and analyzing high school education, forcing educators and administrators to produce “results,” but we often fail to press higher education in the same regard. This research is a good indicator that some things may need to change in the curricular landscape of higher learning in America. If, of course, we can agree that having literate graduates is a good thing.

For more: AIR press release.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Now, I know this could come across as a shameless plug for my seminar, but… USA Today recently ran an article entitled, College counseling in a crunch. The article explains that the average public high school guidance counselor only spends 28% of their time on college advising. And things could be getting worse before they get better.

It’s not the counselors’ fault here. Counselors have too much on their plate as they are called on to do everything from helping students with their schedules to providing emotional support. The burden placed on counselors continues to push college advising further down the “to do” list.

I learned some new things from the article. Do you know the average number of high school students per counselor?

Public schools: 314
Private schools: 241
(Source: NACAC Counseling Trends Survey, 2004)

And, I had no idea that:

“Some affluent families pay independent college counselors for assistance. But students who need help the most, first-generation college applicants, are in no position to pay fees that generally run well over $1,000.”

$1,000! I had never heard of an independent college counselor before.

According to the article the bad news is that although college remains an important step to getting “ahead in life,” the people that need the help the most, typically the poor and 1st generation college students, are not getting the help they need.

The good news is that there is an inner city school in Baltimore that is being looked at as a model for college advising. Baltimore City College High School has developed a system for helping their 1,350 students.

Time will tell is the counseling situation gets any better. For now, we should not assume that students are being advised adequately. Now, more than ever, parents (and youth workers) will need to be sure to take a proactive approach. is a good place to start to learn the basics in college advising. The Getting Ready section provides everything from a glossary of college terminology to a timeline to guide you through the college admissions process.

Monday, January 09, 2006


I have added a suggested reading section on the CTI webpage. I plan to recommend books to both parents and youth workers as well as students entering college. I am still working on the latter, but I have made some recommendations to the former. Of course, this is not a complete list, and I plan to add (and perhaps take away) more books as I go. I could really use your help.
Do you have any books to recommend to parents or youth workers that will help them as they guide students through the transition from high school to college?

As I created this list I was driven by two things. First, I was looking for books that painted a realistic picture of what college life is like. It’s difficult to prepare students for the transition if you don’t know much about the road ahead. Second, I looked for books that directly address parents and/or those charged with helping students navigate the “world of the university.” Keep these two things in mind as you make recommendations.

Here’s my current list (the suggested reading section on the CTI webpage offers fuller reviews):

The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior During the University Years, Steven Garber. Dr. Garber is a friend of mine and I may get some flak for not suggesting this book to college bound students, but, from my experience, it can be a difficult read for high school seniors. Fabric is a valuable book for parents, pastors, youth workers, campus ministers and all others who hope to see students enter adulthood with firm convictions and the resolve to live those convictions in the world.

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Rebekah Nathan (pseudonym). This is a unique look into campus life through the eyes of a college professor who actually enrolled in her university as a freshman. That’s right. This professor with fifteen years of teaching experience moved into a dormitory, scheduled a full load of classes, and immersed herself into student life in order to better understand students. This will help parents and youth workers better understand college student culture.

Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You: Campus Life in an Age of Disconnection and Excess, Barret Seaman. “Parents can learn a lot that will help them prepare for the years just ahead when their child will be off someplace that in all likelihood will become part of his or her future identity. For those baby boomers whose vision of college life remains fixed in the sixties and seventies, I hope to disabuse you of many of those images. It’s a different world today, and you need to know which way those differences cut for your child.” If you’re looking for a realistic description of college life in America, Binge is a good place to start.

College Bound: What Christian Parents Need to Know About Helping Their Kids Choose a College, Thomas Shaw. “Every fall three million students enter their senior year of high school and six million parents panic… Helping your teen choose the right college can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful journeys you take together.” This book will walk you through the process step by step.

I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe. I hesitate to recommend this book: all of the partying, sex, foul language. But then I realized: this is a depiction of college life in the 21st century! This fictional work by social novelist Tom Wolfe captures the reality of what it's like for those who choose to make dangerous decisions during their college years. It is eye-opening and revealing. (You can read my favorite review of Wolfe’s book by former Duke University chaplain, William Willimon, here.)

Friday, January 06, 2006


In response to my last few posts on body image and eating disorders, two helpful articles were sent my way. The first article is from The Lantern, Ohio State University’s student newspaper, and deals with the relationship between college stress and eating disorders. The second comes from Brown University Psychological Services and is a tool to help diagnose depression.

The article from The Lantern, College Stress Might Cause Eating Disorders, opens with a story from a college student. Her name is Amy, she is currently a junior, and for the article she talked about her freshman year and how she suffered from bulimia nervosa. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

“Amy is now a junior at Ohio State. Amy, who requested her real name not be used, was suffering from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder that can occur in females and males, but mostly occurs in females. By their first year of college, 4.5 to 18 percent of women and 0.4 percent of men have a history of bulimia, according to the Food and Drug Administration.Amy came to college enthusiastic about her new life. She was excited to make new friends and to just be part of a new environment. She was not worried about bulimia. However, the onset of eating disorders is often associated with a stressful life event, such as leaving home for college.”

“Dr. Lisa Werner, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, has experience with patients that have eating disorders. She agrees that college freshmen, leaving home for the first time, might experience an increase in the risk of developing an eating disorder because of a lifestyle change.Not only is the change in lifestyle a factor, but also the college lifestyle can lead to either anorexia or bulimia. With the increase of homework and pressure, students might find themselves desperate for control over something in their lives, including their weight.”

“With the stresses of a new life in college, residence hall roommates need to be leery of their new friends and suitemates. If a friend is restricting food, exercising excessively or sneaking off to the bathroom after almost every meal, he or she might be suffering from an eating disorder.”

The article from Brown University, Depression: Define it, Defeat it, is also written to help students be mindful of friends’ behavior. From the introduction:

You know that your college years can be complicated and demanding. Deep down, you may be quite sure of who you are, what you want to do, or whether the choices you make from day to day are the best ones for you. Sometimes the many changes and pressures facing you may threaten to overwhelm you. So it is not surprising that from time to time you, or a friend, feel down or discouraged.

But what about those times when one's activity and outlook on life remain low for weeks and begin to affect relationships, or the ability to relax or to be productive? If you, or a friend, are facing a period like this, depression may be the cause. It may help to have a better understanding of depression.”

This useful tool also discusses “myths and facts” associated with depression. For example:

Myth: Young adults don’t suffer from “real” depression.
Fact: Depression can affect people at any stage of life, or of any racial, ethnic, or economic background.

A big thank you for those who sent me articles. Keep them coming!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


As you can imagine from my last post, many of the body image issues that college students face can lead to eating disorders. Research compiled at the website of the National Eating Disorder Association indicates that:

91% of college females attempt to control their weight through dieting
35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting
20 to 25% (of those 35%) progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders
78% of college women reported having bingeing experiences
8.2% used self-induced vomiting to control weight

(And this is not just a problem for college women. College men feel pressure to look like the latest “fashion magazine” as well. Many will spend hours in the gym trying to look a certain way.)

Author and speaker, Constance Rhodes recently emailed me:

“Something to think about… College is a huge trigger point for disordered eating. Transitioning from having all your meals prepared for you at home, to being on your own in the grocery dept. is part of it. Also, crazy schedules, pizza parties, beer fests, etc. put on the pounds, which can trigger some people into unhealthy compensatory behaviors. Binging and purging is rampant in college dorms, and can sometimes seem like a way to cope w/ new academic and social stresses. And others may find that restricting their diet becomes easier as they throw themselves into their studies.”

Constance’s book, Life Inside the “Thin” Cage: A Personal Look into the Hidden World of the Chronic Dieter is an invaluable resource for those looking to learn more about these issues. Chapter eight includes a short discussion on college transition and the challenges that can lead to eating disorders. You can read CPYU’s short review of the book here.

Constance is also the founder of, the first national organization dedicated to helping those who struggle with EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified). The website is very helpful and provides many practical tools.

My hope and prayer is that many parents and youth group leaders begin to discuss these issues with students before sending them college. Constance’s resources equip us well for that task.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Imagine being an 18 year old college freshman woman, with all of the uncertainties and pressures that this time in life brings, walking into a residence hall only to discover a poster of a gorgeous model with the caption: “Freshman Girls! Get ‘em while they’re skinny!” The poster makes me sick on so many levels and yet it doesn’t surprise me. There is much brokenness around issues of body image in our culture and within college student culture it is perhaps the most intense.

Trendcentral recently ran a piece discussing the need for “more realistic, positive body images in the media.” The short article included a testimony of sorts from a college student, explaining her experience. The student wrote:

“At college, all the girls eat together, and thus, exercise together. In cliques, we go to the gym, and I feel pressure to run faster and longer than my friend next to me. The girls here love to read gossip magazines (they all have subscriptions to Us and InTouch). They’ll flip the pages open to discuss who’s really pretty versus who’s just done up, who needs to gain weight versus who looks toned and fit, (I was shocked to hear Paris Hilton fits into the latter category.) There’s also a seemingly skewed perspective of what’s healthy. I offered my friend some apple juice at lunch and she refused, opting for Diet Coke, because it’s less caloric.”

You can read the rest of the short article here.

This reminded me of Brea’s comments in an article I wrote for CPYU last year on college transition. The article combined two interviews, one was with Eric Bierker of the College Transition Group and the other was with two college students, Brea and Mike, discussing Mr. Bierker’s research. During the conversation we discussed issues of personal identity and body image and Brea’s thoughts have always stuck with me. Brea said:

“It’s hard to feel beautiful when looking through fashion magazines. It is even harder at college. College is like walking through a fashion magazine 24/7. It’s difficult enough to stay on top of schoolwork, nevertheless to stay on top of what you look like in comparison to the hundreds of other young beautiful women walking around campus. It is the only time in life where you are surrounded by people your own age trying to look their best. It makes you question your own identity and self worth. It’s not easy.”

You can read the rest of the interview here.

My hope for this blog is that it starts conversation. So, here are a few questions for readers:

How have you seen students challenged in regards to body image and personal identity?

What is it about the college experience that makes this so prevalent?