5 Situations that May Be Paralyzing Your College Student Right Now

There’s a rhythm to a college semester.

There’s the nervousness at the beginning of the semester as students look at the syllabus for each class and realize that there will be a lot of work to do. Gradually, however, routine settles in and work feels more manageable, and not as overwhelming as it seemed at first. This may be a bit of a honeymoon phase.

For many students, the first reality check may be midterm exams and midterm grades. This is the time to discover what has been working and, for some students, a recognition that some things need to change.

As students near the end of the semester, a second reality check occurs. Now there are only a few weeks remaining and some students may become paralyzed as they face their situation. They freeze because they’re not sure how to begin or how to deal with what needs to be done. If you feel that your student may be overwhelmed by any of these situations, start a conversation.

5 situations that may be paralyzing your student and how to take action

Attendance – Your student has missed a few classes.  Actually, your student has missed many classes. They haven’t been to class in a few days, or maybe even a few weeks. Now your student doesn’t know what to do. They fear that if they go back to class now, the professor will embarrass them in front of the other students. The professor may tell them they are going to fail and shouldn’t bother coming to class. They will be so lost in class that they won’t know what is going on.

Your student needs to find out whether all is lost or whether they can return to class and save their grade in the course.

  • Do email the professor to ask about coming back.
  • Don’t make excuses, although if there is a good reason, explain.
  • Do ask if you may return to class.
  • Do ask if you may meet with the professor to find out about missing assignments.
  • Don’t miss another class all semester.

Assignments – Your student has failed to hand in some assignments – perhaps more than a few. Now they have a double problem. It feels as though there is too much to do to dig out of the hole. And the professor may not accept late assignments anyway.

  • Do email the professor to ask for a meeting.
  • Do go to the meeting with a list of what you think needs to be done.
  • Don’t offer excuses.
  • Do ask whether the professor will accept late assignments even for a reduced grade.
  • Do any assignments as quickly as possible but with quality work and hand them in.
  • Don’t miss any further assignments.
  • Do ask whether you can pass the class without the assignments.
  • Don’t argue if the professor says they won’t accept late assignments. It’s not up to the professor to change a policy because you didn’t do the work.

Course Registration – By this point in the semester, students at most colleges have registered for their courses for the following semester. Unfortunately, some students – especially first-year students, who usually register last – find that the courses they selected may already be filled. Some students freeze and don’t know what to do to find other options. They move on with their current work and forget to address next semester.

  • Don’t ignore next semester. The longer you wait to find appropriate classes, the more difficult it will be to find open courses you want or need.
  • Do go to see your advisor as soon as possible to get help.
  • Do make sure you register for alternate courses even if you’re on a waiting list for another course. You can always drop a course later.

Big Paper, Project or Speech – Although many students had major projects to complete in high school, they may have had more guidance and check-in points as they worked on them. Your student may find now that a project or speech assigned early in the semester is now almost due. Your student hasn’t worked on it and it now seems overwhelming to even know where to begin.

  • Do talk to the professor if you’re confused about the assignment. It may be embarrassing to admit at this point that you haven’t done anything, but if you need guidance, get it. At least you’ll be able to do something.
  • Do The hardest part is often getting started. Write one paragraph or outline one section. Just do something. Worry about the next step after you’ve taken at least one small step. Everything adds up.
  • Do get help if you need it. Use college resources. Talk to a librarian. Visit the Writing Center. Visit the Speaking Center. Ask for a tutor.
  • Don’t ignore the assignment.
  • Don’t wait any longer. It won’t get easier later.

Getting answers – Your student may have questions about many things as school.  Sometimes students don’t know who to ask, but sometimes students call the appropriate office, leave a message, and get no response.  When they’re not sure what to do next, they do nothing.

  • Do give the office or department 48 hours to get back to you. In these times when we often get an immediate online response to many things, this may seem like a long time, but if the office is busy, or someone needs to follow-up on some information, this is reasonable.
  • Do follow-up if you don’t hear back in 48 hours.
  • Do follow-up in person if no one gets back to you.
  • Do monitor your attitude. You may be annoyed that no one has responded, but anger will not get you the information that you need.
  • Do get the name of anyone you talk to. If you need to contact the office again, it helps if you know who you worked with.

When difficult situations arise, it’s a natural reaction to freeze or feel paralyzed. It’s scary not to know what to do next. It’s stressful to feel that you are not in control. Help your student problem-solve difficult situations and find ways to take action to move forward.

Related articles:

One Question You Should Be Asking Your College Student at Mid-Semester

Why You Should Encourage Your College Student to Use Their College E-mail

Help Your Student Get Started Talking to Professors

Recognizing the Signs That Your College Student May Be in Trouble and How You Can Help


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