There are many sources of challenges students face as they navigate their college careers, but sometimes the challenges may be of their own making. Sometimes, students seem to undermine themselves by making assumptions or restricting their choices. These students may need help from someone to get out of their own way. As a college parent, you may be able to help your student move forward more successfully.
Most students eventually succeed in college in spite of bumps and potholes along the way. For some students the transition may be more difficult than others, some students may struggle academically, some may have challenges socially, and others face personal difficulties. For a lucky few, the transition goes smoothly, academics are workable and personal and social life come together.
If your college student seems to be struggling, there may be many reasons. One of the first steps in helping your student be more successful will be to help them determine the source of the difficulties. This is not always obvious — especially to a parent who may be living at a distance. Even if you could identify the problem, it is important that your student be able to identify the source of difficulties Even more difficult than identifying the problem yourself may be helping your student see the problem.
If your student seems to be hitting more bumps and potholes than smooth paths, help them explore some of the possible factors that may be contributing to their difficulties.
- Does your student (or do you) have unrealistically high expectations — either of the college experience or of their own actions? Things may be going better than your student realizes, but they are expecting much more. Help them determine what is realistic to expect.
- Does your student have a fear of success? This may sound odd, but your student may be wary of being in the spotlight or standing out. Are they unknowingly sabotaging themselves? Help your student think about what success might look like — and what it might mean.
- Is your student unclear about their goals — and the action plans that will get them to those goals? The lack of clear goals will leave your student directionless. The lack of an action plan to achieve goals will leave your student without step-by-step path. Action plans and goals may change as your student progresses, but they need direction.
- Is your student falling victim to stress? We all feel stress on a daily basis. College students certainly experience their share of stress. The challenge is to recognize that not all stress is a bad thing, and to channel stress to work productively. The problem may not be the stress itself, but the attitude of being a victim of stress.
- Is your student too hard on themselves? If your student has a hyperactive inner critic constantly evaluating every mistake or misstep, they may be undermining their self-esteem. It is important to engage in evaluation and critical thinking — both about yourself and the college experience, but it is important to maintain perspective. Help your student find a reasonable way to evaluate their experiences.
- Is your student having difficulty managing their life? The skills of self-management, in all aspects of life, are learned skills. Many students entering college are now managing their lives themselves for the first time. They step from busy, scheduled high school lives, overseen by parents, to a world of more free time, fewer responsibilities, and significant peer pressure. Your student may need to evaluate their time management and self control abilities.
- Is your student experiencing a feeling of disempowerment? Some students feel victim to their experiences and challenges. Help your student find those areas of their life over which they have control and maximize them. Help your student identify those areas which seem out of their control and find ways, even small ways, to make progress in taking control. Help your student discover the control they have over their own decisions and life.
- Has your student disconnected? Engaged students do better in college. Studies on student engagement indicate that students who participate, feel in control, and are involved are not only happier, but are also more successful. Help your student find a balance for their college life that includes working on their academic goals and also being involved in campus activities.
- Is your student physically disconnecting from their experiences? This may include leaving campus often — perhaps coming home every weekend — or not participating in campus life as fully as possible. Even commuter students can participate in campus organizations and activities. Of course, your student may be physically disconnected even while on campus. Are they spending all of their time in their room? Are they sleeping many hours of the day? Help your student see the importance and benefits of physically being present.
- Is your student utilizing all of the means of support available? Most colleges now provide many avenues of support for students. Academic support is available through tutoring and writing centers, residence life staff provides support for living situations, faculty advisors are available, fitness centers help with physical well being and counseling centers help students find balance. Help your student learn about the support available and take advantage of all that is offered.
Whatever the issues facing your college student, exploring together will not only help your student, but may strengthen your relationship. Helping your student get out of their own way will help to smooth the path to success.