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Managing A Healthy College Transition with Coach Alissa Cappelleri
Episode 1317th August 2023 • What The Health: News & Information To Live Well & Feel Good • John Salak
00:00:00 00:45:41

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In this episode, we provide an insightful guide for students transitioning to college life. Our guest, Alissa Cappelleri from New Frontiers in Learning, discusses the various academic, social and personal challenges that students often encounter during this critical phase. We delve into the anxiety levels students face, the stigma associated with seeking help and the generational differences impacting self-advocacy. 

Additionally, we highlight the importance of strong support systems within educational institutions and the role advisors play in student success. Towards the end, we offer guidance on how to prepare for college life, emphasizing the importance of establishing a resource matrix and understanding the implications of living independently. Tune in for an enlightening conversation that equips you with the tools for a smoother and more manageable transition to college life.

Don't miss out on other health and wellness insights. Join our WellWell-Being community at for exclusive discounts on a wide range of health products and services.

Chapter Summaries;

0:00:31 College: A Life-Changing Period with New Challenges

0:02:36 Introducing Alissa Cappelleri: Expert in College Transition Challenges

0:04:32 The Challenges and Consequences of College Transition

0:13:09 Challenges faced by students with disabilities and lack of awareness

0:15:06 Stigma and support for students facing difficulties

0:19:03 Preparing students for challenges and seeking early support

0:22:02 Support Services in Colleges and Universities

0:28:48 Assessing the Effectiveness of College Disability Support Services

0:31:07 Evaluating Support Systems: Face Time with Professionals and Rating Systems

0:39:29 Creating a frame of reference for handling challenges in college

0:41:34 Health Hacks: Insights on helping students succeed in the college experience

0:42:37 Exclusive Discounts on Health and Wellness Products

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Alissa Cappelleri


John Salak: Going to college is a blast for many young adults. It's a life-changing period where they experience new freedom, meet new friends, start to explore the wider world, and learn something. About 2.5 million young people go through this ritual every year as freshmen. But it is also a trying time for many new freedom.

time, eating right, staying [:

They're no longer surrounded by friends and family or a high school support system that, in many cases, is designed to reach out and provide help when needed proactively. Effectively, they are on their own for the first time in their lives. Many of them are both excited and homesick at the same time.

Most students eventually meet these challenges with success, even if they still tend to bring home their unwashed laundry during breaks. The transition for other students, however, is more difficult. Some of these students have designated special needs, while others may need to prepare more socially and emotionally.

succeed. Still, their legal [:

For students with challenges, the inability to successfully transfer to college life can come with consequences that go beyond simply flunking out. It can lead. Physical and psychological scars. So what specific challenges do these students face, and how can they and their parents better prepare for a successful transition to college life?

Our guest on this episode of What The Health Is an authority in this field and is ready to serve up some answers.

John Salak: So welcome to again this session of what the Health and our podcast. And right now, we're gonna introduce our guest who has a tremendous experience in really the sort of challenges students and maybe their parents face in moving on to college.

liar with them. So I want to [:

So Alyssa, welcome and give us a little background on yourself and new frontiers.

Alissa Cappelleri: Thanks so much, John. Yes, I have. I have been with New Frontiers for the last four years. So, my background is primarily in special education, specifically with individuals with disabilities. Emotional, behavioral, and all that fun stuff.

I taught for a minute before I realized that there are a ton of skills that we expect our students to know but we never explicitly instruct them on how to do. And so the big question gets posed is, how can you hold someone accountable for what you didn't provide? And that's when I discovered that.

es in whether their academic [:

John Salak: Now I know we're going to address sort of students going off to college for the first time and how they and their parents deal with it, but just to get a full scope, new Frontiers deals with both college-bound students or students in college and also high school students and and middle school students.

Is that correct?

Alissa Cappelleri: Correct. I would say our range is from seven to 70 plus. Anyone who is encountering any type of challenge or has some kind of behavior they'd like to alter. Find a way to make it work. Okay.

John Salak: That pretty much would cover everybody, but I know it's a little more specific for you guys.

So we're talking today about college. It's August, and a lot of students are either off to college or just about to go off to college. So, It's really an exciting time for students and their parents. But it also presents a lot of challenges for these students. Does it go beyond just being homesick or a little nervous? Is that correct?

't have a frame of reference [:

Mm-hmm. We're asking them to level up in that way, but at the same time, manage their own schedule, manage all of their social relationships, foster new ones, strengthen them, Make sure that, alright, we're fed, we are clothed. And all of that is within the realm of being hygienic and taking care of ourselves.

It's not just, oh, I'm going off to college. I'm going to learn things; it's, I'm going to go off to college. And then also juggle all of these things that I've never had to do independently as well.

John Salak: Are some of these challenges a little more severe than others?

Alissa Cappelleri: Definitely. I would say that when it comes to the most challenging issue that everyone's facing, It's that different landscape, right? And being able to tindeedbe that architect of that space and direct course in life.

edged that it is a different [:

John Salak: Why do you think students sort of face these challenges? Are they simply not prepared for them? And this kind of fits into my next question. Are certain students more susceptible to challenges, more susceptible to faced challenges, and some challenges more than other students?

ficit where, if they haven't [:

And so, in all cases, though, there's a lack of being able to identify the current landscape and readily adapt into something that is going to yield an outcome that we're looking for. We see sometimes with that flexibility, it, sometimes it's a, I can't. Envision doing something a different way, as in I can't identify it.

And then other times there's a lot of anxiety and fear that also comes with it of, oh my goodness, I, it, it's scary to do something new. And not being armed with the tools to support that can be very difficult.

John Salak: I was talking to a teacher at a private school in New York.

I had not heard this term before. You may have. And he said they have a lot of students who are basically all ready to go to college academically, but they're not socially or emotionally ready to go to college. A number of them, not all of them, of course, because parents have sort of. Taken all the challenges away from 'em.

They've [:

I know it's probably more complex than that as well, but is that an element?

Alissa Cappelleri: I've definitely heard that phrase before and, you know, on one end, right? Like, you know, who would like to watch someone suffer? If I can eliminate that, mm-hmm. I would want to, but I think there's also something to acknowledge about, not necessarily that we haven't prepared them.

I like to look at what are the opportunities that were available to prepare an individual for this new context we're; we have to, of course, acknowledge that yes, there are opportunities if we give them the chance to practice now before they go, and the stakes are really low. You can intervene once you start seeing things go off the rails without too much of a consequence.

But we also [:

Previously years passed. When they were younger, they didn't; if it wasn't going to fit them, mom returned the shirt. Mm-hmm. She went there. Mm-hmm. She, she brought it back, and then there was a span of a few years where it was. Oh, you know, you just, you throw it in the mail, magic happens. And now it goes.

e don't know is what creates [:

Those that struggle with executive functions can present definitely more difficulties with transitioning to school. Mental Health also impacts because we know that stress impacts cognition, and even the thing that you might know how to do under certain circumstances might not allow you to do it.

But I would say when it comes to preparing individuals to go. It's about highlighting the areas that they haven't necessarily had the opportunity to practice to even see; oh, is that going to be an area of struggle for me? It might not. We might just go full steam ahead. Great, but if I never get the chance to flex those cognitive muscles, how would I know?

John Salak: You mentioned covid shutting down a lot of society and especially schools. You see this as a contributing factor to, I dunno, lack of development or, or not giving students the chance to sort of practice these skills. Is that correct? I.

Alissa Cappelleri: I [:

I think we see this a lot socially as well. We talk about academics when we go off to school, but then we also talk about, alright, you are now alone living by yourself, surrounded by strangers. How do you build yourself a community? There was this time when everyone was virtually learning where they didn't have those small little moments of acknowledgment of personhood that they would if they were in the school building.

You can think back to when you, your, so were in school. You go to the class; you line up outside of the door and maybe chit-chat with someone who's standing next to you. When you enter the classroom, you sit down, someone says hi to you, you ask someone for a pencil. For a good chunk of core development time, they were sitting in a Zoom room waiting to be let in.

ng them physically in a dorm [:

It's just that little thing that, it doesn't, you don't think, oh, that's gonna impact someone's academic performance. But look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? If you're not having your bucket filled in one area, that lack is manifested in a difficulty somewhere else.

John Salak: High schools are very proactive in identifying students who may face particular challenges, whether it's a physical disability or an emotional disability. At least they are more aware now than they were, say, 10, 20, 30 years ago, or 40 years ago when I was going to school.

lves to class or making sure [:

Alissa Cappelleri: I'd say the unfortunate answer, it's, it's a little bit of both, where, I'd like to be able to say that yes, if we have a very clearly, identified population, that we can automatically go support them. But for a lot of individuals, they don't notice that this is an area until they're asked to perform.

That's when, you know, right? It's as if I was doing laps in just a 20-foot pool, and now I'm asked to do laps 50, you know, 50 feet, right? Mm-hmm. Like, mm-hmm. I've never done that before. I was really good at doing the shorter sprints, right? But now I'm asked to do more for longer. And boy, I realize my system is not transferrable.

But then when you pick it up [:

You're like, Hey, what's going on here? Without a doubt, individuals with certain learning differences and communication challenges, and mental Health definitely experience this difficulty, but it's all they've been identified as having mm-hmm. A need for support, and so, they're able to advocate a little bit more readily because there's some type of documentation where it's, okay, I've, I need this.

Let me present it to you. But for a lot of individuals that have never struggled before and mm-hmm now are encountering difficulty, that's a big kind of questioning of self, of like, oh, I, I thought I was good at school, but I'm not doing well now. So this thing that I, I, I hung my hat on, as an identity marker of I'm a good student.

reates a whole host of other [:

John Salak: Is a stigma attached to students or individuals facing with disabilities of mental Health or physical. do these other students who basically went through high school without, A lot of difficulty, and now they face difficulties that are beyond, I'm just homesick. You know what I mean? Or, yeah, I, I really gotta set my alarm to get to class, and why the heck did I schedule an 8:00 AM class?

That was silly. Is there sort of a stigma attached to all of a sudden? These students may need extra help or need some extra support that maybe parents or even the students themselves don't wanna ask for or don't know how to ask for.

Alissa Cappelleri: One thing I'll say about these generations that are going to school now to college is that they are so much more prepared to advocate for themselves.

of, you know, mm-hmm. Mental [:

Mm-hmm. And other people are able to witness and go, oh yeah, me too. I do that. Or I feel that way. So I, I would argue that the stigma amongst peers mm-hmm. It is definitely, Different than maybe years past because now they're seeking and understanding and belonging around the things that they've just felt but haven't been able to articulate.

I think more of the stigma might come from those that haven't encountered that individual within mm-hmm. A context of struggle. And so they're like, what do you mean this is hard for you? Mm-hmm. It's always been easy. Or, you get up with no problem here at home, or you were never late to school before.

o, of course, meet them. And [:

They have great support systems. individuals who want to help make something easier. But sometimes the idea of what a parent or guardian or even an educator thinks would be helpful to a student is not necessarily what they themselves feel like they would need, and when they advocate for that, it's, we have to create spaces where everyone's able to listen.

John Salak: And we're gonna get into, in a second, what type of resources you see available at colleges and universities, which again, are, are almost shortly different than what we may see in high school and how they're, operated.

What can parents and students do ahead of time to better prepare themselves for some of these challenges?

ip of things that they might [:

But it would be a great chance for them to try their hand at it and, maybe, do it with someone and then receive or do it on their own and then get feedback. It's a lot easier to say, like, okay, we're gonna. Learn how to do laundry right now here while I'm home, rather than you calling me from your dorm because you accidentally turned everything pink or you shrunk the wool socks, and now you don't know what's happened.

Mm-hmm. And now you don't have any clothes to wear. If we can practice when the stakes are lower. We have two things that come from that. We have confidence in the student and are able to do it when no one else is around. But then we also build that confidence on the parent side.

ing out the support early as [:

Everything needs to be organized. You're getting a lot of information, throwing in a person to support you on week one. You're not really sure how you're gonna use them. You don't know who they are, or mm-hmm. It's just another thing that you need to get situated, but you struggle to get things situated.

So if we're able to, Build relationships early and identify who we're going to be our key players in our toolbox. We can know when to call them to action.

John Salak: A lot of the things you were saying just now seemed like executive functions, you know, yes. Getting to class and doing your laundry.

l support system around them?[:

Alissa Cappelleri: For sure. I think building that metacognitive lens is super, super important because you have to be aware of yourself in a given space. You need to be able to take a minute and get a read of, like, okay, how am I doing? What am I doing? What do I need to be doing differently? Do I need anything?

And waiting to build that skill when you're there and you feel like the world's on fire. Mm-hmm. Everything is extreme. Something that I always advocate for those that I support to work on is, building out that self-rating scale with what you know beforehand.

Or not in the moment of crisis. So that way you can kind of identify, all right, what am I like on my best day? Mm-hmm. What am I like when I am at the lowest of the lows? What does that look like? What does that feel like? And then also being able to identify what is reasonably an expectation of what it is that I could accomplish.

at. At that reading. If I am [:

You might have the physical capability. Mm-hmm. You might be, have been trained, and you are, and on the other day, ready to go. But capacity is the thing that shifts. And so metacognition. Supporting that skill and really fleshing out a system of self-monitoring helps us to identify our capacity in real-time so that way we can adjust our expectations, our actions, and our plans accordingly so that way we don't get to the point where it's like, oh my goodness, everything is way too overwhelming, and I need to do a lot of recons and be reactive.

ts prepare for this ahead of [:

What do they have to offer, and how do students engage these services?

Alissa Cappelleri: Yes, all universities are required to have some office of accessibility or disability. But yeah, of just baseline of accommodation so that everything is i d a compliant and whatnot. And with alignment to make sure that everyone's needs are being met. The one caveat of that is you have to ask for it, right? Mm-hmm. No one is approaching you in college, being like, Hey, it seems like you're struggling here.

ool whose size allows you to [:

Mm-hmm. So, there are those offices that allow for a student to get their accommodations, support the advocacy of, Communicating that with the professors, but also, at the same time, it's up for the individual to really make sure that they are put into action, right?

I can have a note taker required for my class, and if I ask the professor for it and they say, okay, I'll get to it, and they don't. The office of accessibility isn't knocking down their door unless I go to say, Hey, I've been asking for this. It's not there yet. Other schools are also putting together supplemental programs.

s, and that can be difficult [:

So there are a lot more universities that are putting together either as an add-on or as an ad cost. You can request to be, have an interview, and have your student be a part of it. But then also more, kinda like free coaching options that I know, I've personally would.

We've been consulting with a few universities in the Northeast to support the development of transition and student success coaching programs, which is really, really awesome because the support is definitely needed, and we are seeing just more and more of that light bulb moment of, okay. Yes, they have an advisor, but the advisor is only able to help so much.

But as we're still assessing the depth of the need of student populations, right, they, they have to figure out all, what's the capacity in which they can support internally and, where they need to, arm students with resources elsewhere.

tiation between students who [:

I assume these students are gonna face more challenges in certain ways because the other students are already. Registered or quantified, their problems may be quantified, and they may be used to being proactive in requesting help. Where these other students, to me, it seems like , they may be at risk for not knowing how to go about that.

Alissa Cappelleri: No, it's definitely a possibility. I think you are used to the thing that you have an established practice for Right. If I am always used to going to the restaurant and telling them, Hey, I've got a severe dairy allergy, no cheese. I don't think twice about it.

to say it every single time. [:

It's really hard to articulate the type of help, the help that you're going to need. I see that a lot when I meet clients for the first time. They're like, I, I know that sometimes I need to ask for help, but I don't know what to ask for. I don't know what would be helpful at the moment. I don't know what it is that I could ask for.

So that's where that, that metacognitive piece is , so important. Those that are working on trying to best identify the parameters of their challenges. Having someone in their corner is always really beneficial because they also serve as a second set of eyes and someone to help keep track of; okay, this is difficult, this context, what about this one?

est support. that's also the [:

Mm-hmm. We just hammer home. You're gonna have an advisor because when you think K 12, you have a guidance counselor, and the guidance counselor covers a lot more ground on that level of schooling. But they don't know that it's different.

John Salak: And again, it's been a little while since I've been in university, though.

My daughter graduated a while back. Advisors in colleges and universities. To me always seemed to lean towards academic advice. Depending on the advisor, some would take more interest in you, and sometimes, you'd have an advisor, but you'd connect to a dean or associate dean or some professor more readily.

eone's emotional temperature [:

Alissa Cappelleri: Correct. Usually, that's for academic planning, making sure that you're taking the classes that you need to check off the credits towards your degree structure.

Mm-hmm. And they can help with advocating for, Communication with different professors and whatnot, but they're not going to sit down and really hanker in and be like, okay, how are you studying? Why is it not going well? Mm-hmm. What's a different way for you to put together that paper?

That's not necessarily the role that they situate themselves more in an administrative space, which is an important space to be in. But then what happens when you do have struggles? Mm-hmm. In other areas? How do you know where to go?

have a young nephew who just [:

I'm not gonna mention it, but he was obsessed with going to a school that had a big sports program as well. Those sorts of things got in front. But I guess unless you're super attuned to it, you, a student, or their parents may not really try and assess. How well special services are delivered. Is that fair?

And if it is, how do you go about assessing that? If you're a parent or student and you wanna make sure the best is available or a really engaged department isn't available.

Alissa Cappelleri: Of course. 'cause obviously when we go through the college process, we are looking to make ourselves an attractive applicant, but the schools are also looking to make themselves an attractive choice.

And so, you know, when you're trying to make the decision, we get the polished presentation of this is what the school offers, and that's where we really have to dig a little bit deeper. I would say one thing to look out for is just accessibility to that support staff, ? Mm-hmm.

adily. Do they allow 'em for [:

And so I might. Not even get to the point of being able to access the support if mm-hmm. It's too that that is really difficult for me. And so looking at, alright, who's on the school's team, what is available in terms of just baseline resources that all students have access to? Those that are more exclusive in terms of you either have to submit an application or be selected.

nd with that staff. I always [:

Your student will be able to receive. We have plenty of students who have support through our organization. They also have support through campus. Just because they have the, someone identified as, okay, this person is going to be there for me, it doesn't mean they're always available at the time that they need them to be available.

And so, on paper, it looks like, okay, this might be a really great supportive space for me in action. Maybe not. As much FaceTime as you can get with any professionals in any of those offices is always helpful.

John Salak: Are there any rating systems for this, for these particular areas, these services?

I've never heard of them.

not either. I'm sure someone [:

For me, ? Mm-hmm. Because it's not just, okay, I have accommodations. Accommodations are universal. It's, mm-hmm. Who's gonna be able to best provide me with the things that I'm going to need to be most successful here?

John Salak: And I assume also part of the equation is the culture of the university or college.

And I don't mean culture versus good or bad culture, just, is a large university of 50,000 students is the right environment for a particular student versus a university of 5,000 or 10,000. I assume that also can come into play. I know it's not the only factor, but not that a large university can't be accommodating, but smaller ones there may be more attention.

ly looking at visibility and [:

Rather than have to use a whole host of executive function skills that I am, I'm not strong, I don't have the right, as a strong suit to even create the opportunity to seek out support. I also think looking globally at the universities, what they're offering as a baseline for all students is very important.

If they've identified the whole school population has this need, and we're building it into their education. That's great because they're acknowledging the holistic aspect of education where it's not just, okay, here's the content. Mm-hmm. If I can support that, great.

is a really great green flag.[:

John Salak: Dorm advisors, do they get any additional training on identifying problems? From what I remember, the RA was just making sure that everyone wasn't doing something weird in their room.

Or they'd brought in seven kegs of beer, and they were trying to drink 'em all at once. Are RA's more attuned to what may be happening on an emotional level, or is that just too much to ask?

Alissa Cappelleri: Well, I think on some level, they are definitely giving that staff some type of training, whether that's a weekly workshop or something like that.

But I think the main thing to remember is that the RA is also a student, and while Yes, they are mm-hmm. Responsible for whichever floor building, whatever, they're also responsible for themselves and their education. right? Mm-hmm. They are. Mm-hmm. They're a part-time ra. Full-time students they're also moving their own goals forward, and they have their own host of challenges.

when we think about looking [:

That's staffed by other students. And it's not to say that it's not effective and that's not helpful. It's just that if you have identified that you have a certain learning difference and difficulty in processing information, you might want to be receiving support from someone who understands those challenges, right?

At the end of the day, the tutor, the writing support, they are experts in just the content. Mm-hmm. Because they've taken that class before, or they've been identified as being well equipped on the technical skill end, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a firm grasp on learning.

y interested in it, and they [:

Not every professor is an expert in learning in pedagogy. They're an expert in their field, and that's the main difference. A lot of the time, we don't realize when it comes to high school and college. Your English teacher in high school? Yes. Has the expertise of English, but they also have the expertise of how to present content.

Mm-hmm. And how to check for understanding and build meaning because they have that degree in education. Depending on the subject that you are, you're learning about, you're, your, your given major. You might be in classes with individuals who you know, Yes, they are trying to communicate information that is understandable, but they might not necessarily always know right off the bat how to make it accessible to you.

And that's where the cell advocacy is really important.

or three things you want to [:

'cause then they have to dig deeper. What would those things be? Or is it beyond being that simple?

Alissa Cappelleri: I would; I think it's a little bit of both. I feel like I'm, I'm giving you these answers, but first off, I would make sure that everyone knows who their resources are on campus. I think it doesn't hurt , in any way, to build out a little bit of a resource matrix where I have clients see this all the time where it's, okay, we're making this chart.

We're identifying who is this person. Where are they physically located in terms of their office? How do you contact them in terms of phone or email and identifying what is the nature of support they can offer? Because what we do know is when we are stressed, we are not necessarily thinking with the most clarity ever.

e it, but you didn't process [:

So when you are encountering a challenge or, you know, you are very overwhelmed, you don't have to do the work of identifying, oh my goodness. Like, what am I going to do? Who am I going to call? You? Just kind of look at your Matrix and go, okay, this is this kind of problem. Okay, there we go. I contact this person.

Great. It removes the barrier to access that might get put up when we are in a heightened state of stress. So that's one. The other thing that I'd say that would be really helpful to support someone getting ready to go is to really take a good look at what are all the expectations that lie ahead of us, not necessarily just within, you know, academically.

student? I. But also really [:

Like beyond just, you know, making friends. But also navigating difficult situations and conversations, reading the room, and meeting new people because we're going to be in spaces that we have not been in before. And whereas, you know, when you're younger, if something is not going well, you can kind of bring in the big guns of like a teacher or a parent or, or a guardian, someone like that.

You now have the expectation that you're gonna. Step up to the plate and handle it. Knowing what it is and really taking the time to think about what all of those potential scenarios could be in kind of coming up with a barometer of how confident we feel and being able to master it. Like, do I have a game plan here that can be very helpful because it's all about creating that frame of reference?

We [:

Making sure that they have a very clear system of communicating with family, like what is that going to look like for us when you are no longer within our home? How often am I going to be communicating with you? How do you want to let me know if something is not going well? Because when something's not going well, you, you, it's really difficult to tell someone. Mm-hmm. Real, you know, revealing vulnerability is hard. And so that's where, you know, I think a lot of the times that self-reading scale can be really helpful because, when you have someone sharing space with you, you see them, and even if they don't say something, you can see something. When they're however many miles away.

ou don't get to talk to them [:

That makes, I dunno if, if that makes sense.

John Salak: It makes perfect sense. And I know these issues are much deeper and require a lot more digging and understanding than we can provide here, but hopefully, this is a jumping-off point, and a lot of parents are already aware of this, and students are aware of this.

But hopefully, it's been a jumping-off point for people who may not have thought of all of these things to begin digging deeper because you have been there and you see this on a daily basis, what helps students succeed and enjoy and get the most outta their college, experience.

ant to encourage everyone we [:

So Alissa, Thank you very much.

Alissa Cappelleri: Happy to chat. Alright. It's really important information, and any opportunity to be part of the discourses is always great. So thank you.