The college years are a journey. As your student travels through these years, there will be moments of transition and turning points. Your student may need to pivot and change direction.
Sometimes these pivots may be prompted by a crisis – a time when a decision needs to be made that will determine future events. Sometimes the pivot may be more simply a modification – a slight shift, much as a basketball player might turn and change direction while still keeping one foot planted.
If your student needs to pivot, the shift may be of their own making – a decision to change something – or it may be a change that is unexpected or mandated. In either case, your student may take the shift in stride or may feel overwhelmed and unsettled. You may need to help your student process what this pivot means.
Here are 10 potential pivotal points that may arise during the college years. Your student might face one or several.
- The initial transition to college. For many students, the initial move to college is a natural next step. For some students, however, the beginning of their college career can provide a welcome pivot in their lives. The beginning of college provides students with a clean slate, an opportunity to reinvent themselves and leave their high school career and reputation behind. Many students welcome this opportunity to move in a new direction and to start fresh.
- The choice of friends and social circle. New college students often make initial “friends of convenience.” These are the students who live near them in the residence hall or are in a class with them. As time moves on – often by the middle of the first semester, students may realize that they have less in common with these friends than they thought. They may be drawn to other students with whom they share more interests and values. For some students, this is a difficult time as they feel guilty for “abandoning” their original friends. You can help your student understand that this is a normal part of the cycle of college.
- The choice/change of major. Many students enter college undecided about a major or field of study. The moment when these students choose a major can be a significant moment in helping them determine their direction. Other students enter college with a distinct goal of major or career. For those students who may find that they are no longer interested in this major or who do not qualify to continue in a specific major, shifting to a new field of study can be a significant pivot point.
- The beginning of second semester. The beginning of a new semester marks a fresh start for students. They have new classes, new professors, they are in classes with new students. They enter this semester with the wisdom and the mistakes from their first semester. For some students, this new beginning is a welcome opportunity to put into practice some of the college knowledge that they have gained during their first semester with more realistic goals and expectations.
- Sophomore year. Students in their second, or sophomore, year often experience both a let-down and a decrease in their grades. They experience a sophomore slump. The excitement and thrill of the first year is over, and it is time to settle into some of the more difficult work and courses of college. Sophomores are no longer viewed as “special” as they are replaced by a new incoming class. For some students, this is an important time as they shift into the middle work of college and of their major.
- Academic Probation. The majority of college students will never find themselves on Academic Probation. For those who do, however, this is a distinct pivot point. Academic probation is a warning that your student’s performance falls below the institution’s requirement for “good academic standing”. Students on Academic Probation are expected to take steps to improve their situation. If students do nothing different, they may eventually be dismissed from school. Students who decide to use this warning as an opportunity to change their approach can often turn things around and achieve academic success.
- Dismissal from school. This is obviously a major pivot point. If a student is dismissed from college, it is a moment of crisis, of decision making. Whether a student successfully appeals a dismissal and remains in school or needs to leave, this is a moment for a modification of goals and expectations. A student may choose to take a break from school entirely, take a break and then apply for readmission, or may choose to transfer to a different school, but continuing in the same direction is not an option.
- Junior year “external” experiences. The junior year may bring pivotal opportunities for many students as they branch out from their campus. Students may opt to study abroad, study away domestically, or may participate in an internship. All of these opportunities allow the students to explore the world beyond their school and this can prompt them to view the world or their career differently.
- Senior year – and the dreaded senioritis. Many of us associate the phenomenon of senioritis with the senior year of high school. Seniors have been accepted to college, are tired of doing their work, and let their guard down for the last half of their last year in high school. But senioritis can affect college seniors as well. Your student has been in school now for sixteen or more years, and they are tired of being a student, lose focus and motivation, skip classes, do poorly on assignments, and generally appear unengaged. College seniors may also feel a heightened level of anxiety and stress as they approach graduation and the job search. This is a time when seniors need to make sure they don’t pivot away from their ultimate goals.
- Graduation! The ultimate pivot for students is graduation. This is the moment when, at least for students who are not moving on to graduate school, they will pivot for the first time in at least sixteen years to no longer being a student. As your student steps into the professional world of their career, they will need to adopt an entirely new mindset. Be sure to congratulate your student on this massive pivot.
We have all made many pivots in our lives. As we reflect on the pivots that college students make, many of us may be surprised to realize how many pivots we have made in our own lives – and how grateful we are for where some of those changes of direction led us.
Help your student remember that a pivot is a change of direction while still staying grounded in something. One foot remains on solid ground while we swivel and change direction. Share some of your own pivot points with your student as you both look ahead to where new directions can lead.