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Oakes's Corner

Time to Reboot: Young Adult Transition Programs

By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

Alice, an attractive twenty year-old, walked into my office with a wide smile on her face and immediately engaged me in conversation. The previous day, her parents told me that she had withdrawn from college and would not be returning the following semester. They warned me that she was not the self-confident person she seemed to be and that behind the smiling face was a person who was struggling. They would often find her in bed with the covers pulled over her head as she wept uncontrollably. This was the second time Alice had withdrawn from college. The first time, she had been suspended after receiving her second DUI. Out of shame and embarrassment, she had chosen to transfer. Her second go round was similar. She had developed ways of disguising her anxiety by being overtly social. She was the life of the party, going out with friends most nights to parties and lying in bed all day, unable to muster the energy to make it to class. Alice fell so behind in her classes that she became overwhelmed, and her first and only semester at this second college, she earned low grades and incompletes. Her family was highly educated and expected her to graduate from college. They wanted her to enroll in a community college while she applied to transfer to yet another college. I recommended that she enroll in a young adult wilderness program.

More and more, I am meeting students who have had unsuccessful experiences at college. The lack of rules and guidelines can be overwhelming for some as many are away from home for the first time. Many students are prone to taking their bad habits along with them when they leave high school. Their lack of self-discipline can backfire because college professors are not always as understanding as their high school teachers were. During my freshman year in college, I vividly remember walking into a classmate’s dorm room to study for our history exam to find out he had already left for Christmas break. When I checked on another classmate, he was preparing for another exam. Butterflies began to fill my stomach as I rushed back to my room to recheck my exam schedule. The history exam had been given the day before. When I found my professor, he did not pat me on the head and tell me I could take the exam at another time. He gave me two choices. I could take an F on the exam, or he would allow me to withdraw from the course.

The level of anxiety students experience nowadays can make the transition to college unbearable. It seems like the “freshman slump” has morphed into something more crippling.

According to a Trinity College article written about symptoms of anxiety in college students, “typically, anxiety disorders involve disturbances in mood, thinking, behavior and physiological activity. In the college student, they may take many forms. Often they present as adjustment disorders with anxious features, test or performance anxiety, social phobia, or substance induced anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, students want to moderate their anxiety on their own. The stigma and shame they feel is embarrassing. Students perceive their symptoms as a sign of failure.” Margaret Tartakovsky, MS writes in an article entitled “Depression and Anxiety among College Students,” that “for students, stigma remains the most significant barrier to seeking treatment. Students turn to self-medicating to numb the overwhelming feeling of failure, embarrassment and loss of control. The affect of binge drinking and drug use often spirals out of control until students reach a breaking point.”

Every year, I visit many colleges and universities. Lately though, I have found myself investigating young adult wilderness and transition programs where outdoor activities play a big role. These programs are structured to build confidence and to lift the students back to a place where they can get on with their lives, finish their degrees and discover new and stimulating outlets for their talents and passions. One such place, Living Well Transitions (, offers a combination of individual and group therapy, independent living, internships and enrollment at the local college. Each student works with a life coach and academic tutor as well as a therapist who oversees his/her well being.

Below are links to other websites that provide information on such programs:



So what ever happened to Alice? She completed Wilderness and enrolled in a young adult transition program. While she was there, Alice received individual and group therapy and met with life and academic coaches. She lived in a house with other young adults enrolled in the program. With the support of her peers and the staff, Alice was alcohol and drug free. Her therapist reported that she was doing very well and that she would enroll at the local college part-time at the beginning of the following semester. When Alice completed the program, she decided to transfer to that college full-time so that she could remain in a town where she had built up such a strong support network.


Dragonfly Transitions-

Dragonfly Transitions is a nine to twelve month program in Klamath Falls, Oregon that helps students transition into a healthy young adult life with independence and autonomy while providing a stable, supportive environment. Dragonfly Transitions is committed to helping students in the areas of education, employment, fitness, nutrition, recreation, healthy relationships, emotional well being, and other independent living skills. Participants are young men and women between the ages of 18 and 24.

Please call Hunnewell Education Group at 508 650 4600 for further information.