As a college parent, we want nothing more than for our college student to be successful in college. Although that success may look different to different parents and families, important measures of success for most of us are certainly competence, grades, happiness, and a job after college.
Students are responsible for their own behavior in college. As parents, we have raised them and prepared them for their college journey. We continue to be involved and to support our student, but they must make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions. Our role, as a parent, changes. However, as the coach on the sidelines, we can do much to suggest options to our student which will help guide them toward success. Some students may need more reminding and guiding than others, and students will make choices which will determine their path.
We’d like to suggest some choices and actions that you can encourage in your college student to help them increase their chances of a successful college experience. Of course, there is no magic bullet, and sometimes even those students who make all of the right choices may hit rough patches, but these suggestions may help to guide your student toward success and increased confidence. Encourage your student to consider some of the following.
- Find a good time management system. Possibly one of the most important secrets to success in college is good time management. Students spend much less time in class at the college level and are expected to do more coursework outside of the classroom. They are faced with much more unstructured time. Students should also participate in campus activities (both academic and co-curricular) and many students today also have a job. Finding a systematic way to juggle all of their responsibilities, plan ahead, and organize their time will be one of the most important skills that your college student can accomplish.
- Go to class. Showing up really is half of the battle. Students not only learn the material by going to class, they learn about their professor and what each professor considers important, learn from other students in the class, and send a message to the professor that they care.
- Know your way around campus. Encourage your student to find out what resources are available on campus and to take advantage of those resources. Encourage your student to use a tutoring or academic support center, talk to their advisor, take advantage of all library resources and library research assistance, talk to a counselor if that would be helpful, and take full advantage of all that the college has to offer.
- Seek help early. If your student encounters difficulty — either academically, socially or emotionally, encourage them to get help early rather than waiting. Find a tutor or study group, talk to the professor, talk with the RA or Residence Director, visit the health or counseling center. Dealing with a problem early can prevent larger problems later.
- Take some classes that you love. Almost all colleges have ”all college” or general education requirements. There will also be requirements for your student’s major. There may be requirements for a minor if your student has one. Students can feel overwhelmed and focus only on what needs to be done. This is important and good. However, encourage your student to also do something that they love and to do it early in their college career. Too many students think they need to wait until junior or senior year to take a ”fun” class and by then are burned out. Encourage them to make room in their schedule for that dance class, art class, sports class, or whatever else might feed their passion for something. This will help your student keep balance and give them an important outlet.
- Do hard things. Encourage your student to stretch and try new and difficult things. Success often comes best through meeting difficult challenges. Remind your student that failure (not necessarily failing a course, but even failing a course) is one of the best learning tools. If your student never tries anything difficult because they are afraid of failure or hard work, then their world will never expand. Remind your student to welcome challenges.
- Stay healthy. Remind your student that they will function best when they have had a reasonable amount of rest, exercise and relatively healthy food. Yes, your college student may manage on few hours of sleep, days of no exercise, and days of junk food, but remind them to at least try to sleep, exercise and eat in balance some of the time — especially during stressful times like exam time.
- Take some small risks. Encourage your student to take small steps toward larger goals. Ask a question in a class where the instructor intimidates them. Talk to a difficult professor after class. Volunteer to work on a committee. Join an unusual club. Run for office in a club or student government. Stretch the limits of their comfort zone.
- Avoid nay-sayers. There will always be negative people. Your student does not need to spend time with them. They will color your student’s experience. Encourage your student to avoid people who are negative about almost everything.
- Engage in positive self-talk. Your student can coach themselves in the direction of success. A good coach guides an athlete not only by telling them what they need to improve, but also what they are doing well. Remind your student to consider what is going well, praise decisions well made, recognize their strengths, and cheer when things go well.
- Talk to an upperclassman for advice. There is a lot of wisdom gained through experience on college campuses. Encourage your student to find one or two upperclass students who are role models and to gather some of their wisdom.
- Tutor someone. If your student has a subject in which they are skilled, they can tutor someone struggling with that subject. Becoming a tutor might earn your student a bit of money, but more importantly it will increase their confidence and solidify their knowledge of the subject. Students who tutor others learn their college material better.
- Gain some real world experience. Participate in community service projects, internships, conferences, study abroad, or any other experiences that give the student the opportunity to get off campus and try their new knowledge in the real world.
None of these suggestions will work magic for your student. Not every student will be able to take advantage of all of them. But thinking carefully about choices, and making some wise decisions on a daily basis, can increase your student’s chances for success and increase their confidence. Don’t forget, as a college parent and coach on the sidelines, to congratulate your student often for the wise decisions they make.