Most college students get a ”restart” at least twice a year. (If students have shorter terms such as trimesters or quarters, then they get even more.) Each new semester brings a kind of New Year experience. It is a chance to reflect on the past and look ahead with new goals and visions for the future. (We hesitate to call them resolutions because we know how seldom we keep those resolutions.)
As we approach the beginning of a calendar year and also a semester, this is a good time for your student to reflect on the semester that has just passed. This is especially important if you have a new college student and this was her first semester. That first semester is an important learning time (in so many more ways than just academics) but the learning is most meaningful if your student takes time to reflect.
We’d like to offer some questions to share with your student. These are important ways to look back and consider the past semester — an essential step before looking ahead and thinking about how to make the new semester even better. Suggest that your student think about some of these questions — but don’t expect him to answer them for you. While he might want to share some experiences and reflections with you, it is most important that he be completely honest with himself. If he feels the need to filter any answers for your benefit, it may not be as helpful.
How to evaluate the previous semester . . .
Consider the following questions.
- What were your grades? Grades are the obvious way to evaluate how you did academically. If they were terrific, congratulations! If they were less than you hoped for, think about why. What lessons did you learn about doing college level work? What did you learn about expectations? What did you learn about your study habits and abilities? What can you do differently next time?
- What classes did you love the most? Why? How can you build on this? Are there new areas you now think you’d like to explore?
- What classes did you dislike? Why? Are these areas you’ll be able to steer away from? Do you need to adjust your attitude or strengthen your background? Don’t just let this go. Think about why you disliked these classes and what you can do.
- What worked well this semester? Consider this question both in and out of the classroom. What did you really like/enjoy this semester?
- What didn’t go well? Why?
- If you had the semester to do over again, what would you change? What would you do differently? (Make sure you are thinking about things under your control. What would you do differently?)
- How do you feel about your social life? Friends? Activities? Are they helping you be the person you want to be or getting in the way? Do you need to consider any changes?
- How involved were you on campus? How often did you leave campus on the weekends? Do you need to stay more? Get away more? Do you need to get involved more? Do you need to do less in order to focus more or spend more time studying/with family/relaxing?
- Did you have a job? Are you balancing school and work? Could you consider an on-campus job?
- How do you feel about your personal finances? Are you managing your money? Did you have enough money? Do you need to make more/spend less/take charge?
- Were there any surprises this semester? Why did that surprise you? What can you do with that information?
- Were there any disappointments? Why? Can you do anything to prevent future disappointments?
- What have you discovered about yourself this semester? What’s different about you now than at the beginning of the term?
- What strengths do you have that you hadn’t realized? Can you build on those?
- What weaknesses have you discovered? Do they matter? Can you work on those?
- If you had to sum it up in one sentence, what is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned this semester? Now that you know that, what can you do with that information?
The New Year is all about resolutions, looking forward to the future, setting goals, and making plans. But goals and plans should be built on the solid foundation of understanding the past. As a college parent, you can guide your student to think about evaluating the lessons of this past semester in order to build on them. The new semester is a clean slate, a new start. Help your student understand how to use his previous experiences to create a fresh start.
What have you learned about being a college parent this semester? How can you build on that knowledge? Think about asking yourself a few important questions as well.
Happy New Year!