Communication: College Transitioning

Family Modules

Module 7 Part 1



Objective: The student will identify different forms and styles of communication and learn which are appropriate for communicating in various college scenarios.

Estimated time 30—45 minutes

Materials needed:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 7 Lesson 1 in the College Bound Transition curriculum resources.

Learn About It

The Recipe for Great Communication

Verbal-Written Verbal-Oral Nonverbal
Language Language Body language
Vocabulary Vocabulary Gestures
Content Content Eye contact
Structure Structure Facial expression
Tone Tone Voice
Grammar and spelling Sentence structure Personal space
Punctuation Fluency Appearance

Parents Chime In

Brainstorm with your student some examples of each type of communication listed above. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Verbal-Written: books, papers, letters, emails, text messages, job applications
  • Verbal-Oral: phone calls, face-to-face conversations, presentations, lectures, job interviews
  • Nonverbal: waving hello, nodding your head, hugging, dressing up or dressing down, screaming or whispering.

Informal vs. Formal Communication


  • Has a more relaxed tone and sounds casual
  • Most commonly used with peers or family members
  • Requires less emphasis on grammar and spelling.


  • Uses standard language and a formal tone
  • Most commonly used with non-peers and people you don’t know well
  • Necessary in business, career, and educational settings.
Informal Mode of Communication Formal
  • Text message to a friend
  • Grocery list
  • Tweet or Facebook status
  • Email to a professor
  • English paper
  • Online discussion board post
  • Skyping with a sibling
  • Socializing at a club meeting
  • Getting to know your roommate
  • Tutoring session
  • In-class presentation
  • Scheduling a doctor’s appointment
  • Dinner out with a friend
  • Watching a movie at home
  • Hugging your mother to say hello
  • Interacting with customers at work
  • Turning in a job application
  • Shaking hands to greet your boss

Parents Chime In

Why does communication matter, and how does your student learn to use it effectively?

Talk about communication-related expectations will change as your student becomes and adult and enters college.

Discuss the effects of using appropriate communication, and how other people are more likely to

  • Have a positive impression of you
  • Take you seriously; relate to you as a peer and adult
  • Offer you assistance and give you the benefit of the doubt when needed.

Informal communication is appropriate in many circumstances. However, college students encounter more situations where formal communication is necessary and appropriate.

In college, your student will need to transition back and forth between formal and informal communication styles much more frequently than they might have done in high school.

College Communication

In college, you will probably need to:

  • Send emails: These will go to a variety of people; some of them will need to be very formal, while others will be much more casual.
  • Leave voicemails: Not every situation can be handled over email, so you’ll need to have strong phone skills as well.
  • Attend meetings: A much broader array of people can be involved in your education during college than in high school, and you may have meetings with many of them at one time or another. You’ll need to schedule these meetings, attend them, and often follow up with additional communication in different formats. In addition, because there will be a wide range of people involved, you’ll likely need to use different levels of formality and different communication strategies in each.
  • Ask questions: You will need to ask questions effectively in class, but also in many other situations, especially during your first couple years in college. You may need to walk into a completely unfamiliar office and ask a total stranger for information. Some students find these situations intimidating, but practicing strong communication skills can help make them easier.
  • Write papers and assignments: Writing is a typical way that students are assessed in college. Your ability to represent yourself well in academic writing, which is a completely different style than other types of writing, will be important to your college success.
A professor lecturing to her class.
  • Give presentations. Depending on your major, you may have lots of oral presentations in your classes or only a few. Either way, becoming a stronger public speaker is an excellent skill to develop.
  • Attend tutoring and other support sessions: Most college campuses offer many types of academic support, and even the strongest students access these resources. You’ll need to be able to interact with tutors, professors, graduate assistants, peers, and others who will be involved in these sessions.
  • Participate in class discussions: Some college courses are strongly discussionbased, and your grade may even derive from your appropriate participation and effective, relevant contributions to class conversations.
  • Work on group projects: College students often have strong feelings about working on group projects, often because their grade is partly based on the work other students submit. Effective communication is the key to successful group project experiences. Don’t underestimate the impact that one strong communicator (you) can have on bringing a group together successfully.
  • Apply and interview for a job or internship: For many students, college includes a part-time job or an internship. At the very least, students preparing to graduate will need to develop their communication skills related to applying for and interviewing for jobs.

Communication Tips

Use good body language

  • Stand up (or sit up) straighter than usual.
  • Look people in the eye when listening or speaking.
  • Don’t fidget with objects in a distracting way.

Use professional verbal language

  • Say "yes" instead of "uh-huh"; say "hello" instead of "hey."
  • Remember your manners: "please," "thank you," "yes ma’am/sir."
  • Don’t use profanity in any education or employment situation.

Use active listening skills

  • Pay attention and actively try to understand what’s being said.
  • Acknowledge what’s being said by nodding, saying "yes," etc.
  • Respond in ways that keep the conversation going.

10 Things Body Language Says About You


Parents Chime In

College is the first time that many students tackle many of the independent living tasks that their parents may have handled previously. The transition often involves more extensive interactions with people outside of the university setting. For example, your student will use communication skills to schedule appointments, to make purchases, and for other purposes.

Discuss each of these situations with your student, emphasizing the importance of presenting themselves in an intelligent, polished manner to the people they will interact with. If you have typically taken the lead in interactions when your student is with you, now is a good time to allow your student to practice doing the talking in different types of settings, especially educational settings.

This may also be a good time to practice shaking hands with your student. Have your student shake your hand and introduce himself or herself. This skill will come in handy when they meet people for the first time upon arriving at college.

Communication Scenario

A group of peers look at a computer screen.

Read the following scenario and discuss the accompanying questions with your parent:

Imagine that you are the professor of an Intro to Anthropology course. On the first day of the semester, a student approaches you before class. He shakes your hand and introduces himself:

"Hello, Dr. James. My name is Charlie Hunt. I’m really looking forward to your class. I’m a psychology major, but I’m thinking of minoring in anthropology. If I have any questions this semester, would it be okay if I emailed you about them, or do you prefer a different way of getting in touch?"

As you wrap up your conversation, he says, "Oh, by the way, here’s a copy of my disability support services accommodations letter. I’ll be using a few accommodations in your class, and you can contact either me or the disability office if you have any questions about them."

  • What type of first impression has Charlie made on you, as the instructor of this course?
  • What is that first impression based on?
  • What might you predict Charlie will be like during the rest of the semester based on your first encounter with him?

Parents Chime In

Discuss this scenario with your student and answer the questions together.

  • What type of first impression has Charlie made on you, as the instructor of this course? [Have your student discuss Charlie’s first impression. Compare your student's comments to the following potential description: Charlie has made a very positive first impression. He is memorable and stands out in the class. He seems to take initiative, and he is polite.]
  • What is that first impression based on? [Have your student discuss how they he or she formed that first impression of Charlie. Compare this response to the following possibilities: The impression may be based on Charlie’s conversation with the professor; the way he took the initiative to introduce himself; how he came prepared with his disability accommodations letter; how he used respectful language and good manners.]
  • What might you predict Charlie will be like during the rest of the semester based on your first encounter with him?

[Have your student discuss his or her predictions. Compare these predictions to the following: Charlie is likely to be a responsible, well-mannered student who communicates clearly and effectively and participates appropriately in class.]

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will identify different forms and styles of communication and learn which are appropriate for communicating in various college scenarios.

If so, congratulations!

If not, you may want to research some of the communication topics further. Use the Communication Research Guides to guide your research.

Parents Chime In

  • Review and discuss your student's personal communication goals for the first semester of college.
  • Encourage your student to practice communication with teachers and with you. Suggest additional goals if you think your student needs them, but be open to the fact that these are your student's goals and not your own.
  • Talk about your own communication goals.

For more information…Digging Deeper