When Your Child’s College Semester Wasn’t Great…and they don’t want to go back
It’s that time of year when many, many college students wonder whether they should go back for the upcoming semester. They may have stumbled and even fallen a few times. Maybe their grades were lower than expected. Or they struggled to find their social niche. Or a terrible roommate experience has soured the whole endeavor.
It’s important to remember that college is really, really hard.
It can be terrifyingly difficult academically. It’s not always clear what each faculty member considers success. And the types of work that are required may not resemble what they did in high school at all. Research and paper-writing, problem sets, essay exams, lab reports, they all have to be done on a different level than in the past.
Socially, college is almost never a walk in the park. Just like when we move to a new town or city, it’s hard to find our people. Athletes, actors, musicians, and students who are active in their religious communities might have it the easiest because their social groups are pre-formed and waiting for them when they arrive. But even then, the sense that you are being evaluated on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Until a student feels that they have hit their stride and found their place, it can feel like every faculty member, administrator, and student is evaluating you intellectually, emotionally, physically, and every other way you can think of.
And then there’s the pressure of knowing that the decisions you make about courses, the work you do in each one, and the impression you make on faculty and administrators could make a huge difference in your internship and research opportunities, finding your dream job, and getting the much-coveted excellent recommendation letters.
No wonder the anxiety levels of college students are through the roof.
Here are a few steps your child can take to prepare to go back next semester.
- List the successes and failures of the previous term and talk with someone (a parent, sibling, another relative, friend, therapist, priest, rabbi, etc.) about how they went the way they did. What would they repeat and what would they do differently?
- Find someone to talk to about what they learned. Chances are they learned a lot more than they think. Articulating it can be incredibly eye-opening and relieving.
- Are there support services on campus that they didn’t access? Most students don’t know half of the opportunities for getting help. Writing centers, tutoring, study groups, disability services, counseling, faculty office hours, peer mentors, and many others abound. Students don’t take advantage of them because a) they didn’t know they existed; and/or b) they are afraid of asking for help. Once they realize that asking for help is a sign of wisdom, strength, and maturity, it might be easier for them to utilize the assistance that many hundreds if not thousands of students have used before them to help them succeed.
- Connect with a faculty member. Perhaps there’s a particularly nice-seeming instructor from the previous semester or someone your child has heard good things about that they are taking a course with next semester. Suggest they set up an appointment with them to talk about the course and be brave and share with them your struggles so far in college. Chances are every faculty member has struggled as well and knows many students who have, too. Sharing these stories can be incredibly comforting. Plus, the connection with a faculty member can make all the difference. Students who have substantive connections with faculty not only feel they have had a better college experience; they are also more likely to graduate and graduate on time.
- Encourage them to be honest about their academic choices so far. Often students are doing poorly because they thought they were a science kid, but it turns out that chemistry is a nightmare. Pivoting can seem terrifying. But it’s better to be honest about it as soon as possible rather than forcing yourself to go too far down that road.
- I don’t know how parents can deliver this message to students without them rolling their eyes, but here it is anyway. If every student would sleep 8 hours, hydrate well, eat healthfully, temper their alcohol/drug intake, and reduce their relationship/friendship drama, their experience would be exponentially enhanced. I have known students who have done this successfully, but they are the exception, not the rule, unfortunately. I know I sound like a stick-in-the-mud, but…. I’m not saying a student shouldn’t explore boundaries, get close to people, and have fun. But way too many students shoot themselves in the foot by staying exhausted, dehydrated, full of pizza, beer, and drugs, and wasting time on melodramatic love stories.