IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

5 Ways College Has Changed Since You Went to School

In reality, the entire approach to life and work and love for young adults has dramatically shifted.
Parent Toolkit

As a parent, you’ve probably started a sentence with “When I was in school…” While this is nothing to be ashamed about — in fact sharing real-life experiences can provide really important wisdom to your kids — the world looks different today than it did when you were in college.

In reality, the entire approach to life and work and love for young adults has dramatically shifted. Here are some important changes to recognize as your teen heads off to college.

1. Delayed Adulthood

Young people are delaying adulthood in all aspects of life: education, moving out, marriage, kids, and career.

According to the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, many 18-29-year-olds feel as if they are in a stage of life that is "in-between." Forty-five percent responded to the question, "Do you feel that you have reached adulthood" with "in some ways yes, in some ways no." The Clark Poll also found that among 19-21-year–olds, 47 percent still live with parents, while only 7 percent live with a husband or wife. According to Pew research, in 1960, 72 percent of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51 percent are. Similar trends occur for parenthood as well.

Advice from Parent Toolkit: How to Let Go

Delayed parenthood and marriage allow for this new life stage, one that research professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University Jeffery Jensen Arnett coined, "emerging adulthood."

But, there is a lot of negative talk when it comes to this time. Stereotypes about millennials are everywhere. They are lazy or selfish and just can't seem to get it together. Arnett argues that these negative stereotypes are not true. In his book, "Getting to 30," he says, "They're not lazy, they're mostly working at crummy jobs for low pay or combining work and school; they're not selfish, they're remarkably generous and tolerant." Arnett argues that this delayed adulthood is actually a good thing for young people.

Former freshman dean at Stanford and author Julie Lythcott-Haims cautions against thinking of young adults as children just because they aren't getting married or having kids yet. She stresses young adults need to be independent, learn resilience from setbacks, and that parents need to step back and allow that to happen. Parents, of course, have concerns that their child will not find a good job or a happy relationship or settle down.

What does this mean for my young adult?

This time is new and different for both you and your kid. These formative years give young adults a chance to have experiences that they could not have earlier in life and will not be able to later in life when they have more responsibilities.

In some ways, your young adult has an opportunity to learn how to make good choices in love and work and build resilience. This doesn't have to mean your young adult is lazy or putting off adulthood. In fact, Parent Toolkit youth advisor Emma, who graduates high school in 2017, says she wants to dispel the myth that young people are lazy.

"If we're seeming lazy, it's because we're generally exhausted and our lives demand a lot of us," Emma says. "That's not respected as much as it should be." Another student advisor, Shreyas, a high school junior, agrees.

"Call me optimistic or hopeful, but because we're connected to the world around us, it puts us in a position to do things that we wouldn't have been able to do 5 or 10 years ago," Shreyas says.

Education consultant Jennifer Miller says this is a big exploration and identity-forming time for young adults because they are away from their family for the first time. As a parent, try to understand that this time of life is not the same as when you were this age. You and your "emerging adult" can see this new life stage as an opportunity to grow their responsible decision-making skills and explore what type of life they ultimately hope to lead.

More from Parent Toolkit: Making a Plan the Summer Before College

However, this does not mean your young adult can or should forgo responsibility. Lythcott-Haims says that there is a gap between what "they're supposed to know and what they do" for some young adults. She emphasizes that problems arise when young adults delay adult responsibilities like problem solving and decision-making. Just because your young adult is delaying having kids or getting married does not mean they have a free pass on professional and personal accountability.

2. College Admission and Completion

More young adults than ever before are attending college.

In October 2015, nearly 70 percent of American high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, but the completion rate has been virtually unchanged, according to a report by Complete College America. Only 38 percent of first-time, full-time students who entered college in fall of 2008 seeking a bachelor’s degree finished in four years, while 60 percent completed the degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

What does this mean for my young adult?

Recognize their accomplishments for getting into school and acknowledge the rigor of school today. The shift from high school academics to college academics is challenging for even the most prepared students. Focus on effort more than grades, especially in the first year of college. Help them identify campus resources before or at orientation, then encourage them to get support through counselors, academic advisors, writing centers, and other campus resources, but do not step in. It is their responsibility to take control of their academic success throughout college.

3. Going Digital

For better or for worse, technology has entered the classroom, and the world.

At a college level, many students have their own laptops and are required to complete assignments—and sometimes even tests—online. Class registration and final course grades are all accessed online. Most of the college search, applications, and admissions process is now online, too. Most students use laptops during classes and lectures. A 2008 ScienceDirect study showed that students reported using their computer for things other than note taking for an average of 17 minutes during a 75-minute class.

What does this mean for my young adult?

First of all, your student will need access to a computer in college. If it is not financially possible to own a computer, most school libraries will have computers for your student to use or laptops to check-out. However, this does not mean that using the laptop during class is the best idea for your student. Many experts and professionals advise handwritten notes are best for comprehension.

Beyond just coursework, going digital means challenges for your young adult’s brain. Neurologist Judy Willis says the neural networks (how different parts of your brain communicate) are still gradually building through your young adult’s 20s. Now with the amount of information available with globalization and the internet, she says our students all have an information overload. “They’re not stupid, they’re not lazy,” Willis says. “But their brain development has hit the wall before the supply has met the demand.” She says parents have to recognize this and that flexibility, innovation and the ability to adapt reflect the Internet age.

Technology also offers opportunities for you as a parent. You are reading this right now because of the internet! And many schools provide resources online, a lot specifically designed for parents, where you can stay up-to-date on campus life, activities, and events.

Read the rest of this story at