How to Help Your Undecided Student Find Direction

This is Part 2 of our 2-part series on undecided students. Part 1 – Why Your Undecided Student May Be Drifting – discussed why your student may be having a difficult time deciding about a major. In this article we share some ways that parents can help their undecided student find direction.

There are many reasons for being undecided about a major. In our last article, we suggested that helping your undecided student find direction begins by helping them understand why they are undecided. You can help guide this process, but the deep work involved is your student’s work to do.

Being unsure about a major as you enter college might be the most appropriate course for many students, but it is important not to allow that uncertainty to become a drifting mentality.  Help your student formulate a plan to proactively investigate and narrow options and ultimately make at least a tentative choice.

A 7-step plan to help your student get started

Making a decision about a major – and possibly making it over again several times – can be so daunting that some undecided students begin to drift. They aimlessly move through each month or semester without making progress toward a choice because it is too difficult to know where to begin.

Help your student create a plan to guide their decision making.

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Why Your Undecided Student May be Drifting

Most traditional college students enter college when they are between 18-20 years old. Scientists tell us that at that age, young people’s brains are not yet fully formed – especially in the area of executive functioning.

Is it any wonder, then, that many students (some suggest close to 50% of them) are undecided about a major when they enter college? Or that approximately 79% of college students change their major at least once during their years in college, with the average student changing their mind three times?

It may not make sense to expect our college students to know at the outset what they want to do with their lives, but we do.

If your student is one of those many students who say they are undecided about a major, you may worry.  Your student worries, too. Will they ever find direction? Will they find it too late and not be able to complete college in a timely way? What if they never find the right career?  That’s a lot of anxiety.

Being unsure about a major as you enter college is OK – it might even be the most appropriate response.

What is not OK is to allow that uncertainty to become a drifting mentality.

How did we get here? Why do we (and students) worry about being “undecided”?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We ask our young children that question, and we get those cute responses. “I want to be a ballet dancing doctor!” “I want to be a gypsy!” “I want to be an astronaut and a policeman!” At that age, it’s all about possibilities.

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Does Your College Student Have an Advisory Board?

Most college students crave independence. It’s what the teenage years are all about, and as students head off to college they have an opportunity to spread their wings and exercise that independence. It’s an important stage of development (although it’s sometimes a difficult time for parents.)

So what’s the problem?

For many students, the problem is that they feel that being independent means that they must do everything on their own. Asking for help or guidance means that they aren’t truly independent.

Of course, that isn’t true. We all need guidance. We all have times when we need to ask for help. Being independent means knowing when you need help, finding the people who can provide that help, and being brave enough to advocate for what you need.

This is why your student needs a personal advisory board.

What is a Personal Advisory Board?

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of any company rarely runs the company single-handedly. Most CEOs have a Board of Directors who advise them and help make the decisions that guide that company.

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10 Potential Pivot Points for Your College Student

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.

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Your Student Needs This Time Over Winter Break

Winter Break. Most college students look forward to it – and they get increasingly impatient for it as the semester draws to a close. Students face deadlines they may have ignored, final papers, final projects, final exams, and a generally stressful few weeks as they finish up their term.

This year, the stress has increased as they attempted to do their work in masked and distanced classrooms, in hybrid settings or fully remote – either from home or from dorm rooms. It’s been a difficult semester for everyone.

Winter Break

This year, as we enter what many are telling us will be the darkest and most difficult winter we’ve faced, students may be anticipating Break more than ever. Students don’t want this Break, they need this Break. But Winter Break will not be business as usual this year. There may be minimal travel, fewer events, smaller family gatherings, less socializing, and students may have more time on their hands. This has been a year like no other, and it promises to be a Winter Break unlike anything we’ve known.

Whether your student is finally coming home or has been home all along, the next few weeks may prove challenging for everyone. But wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, most students need one thing as this semester draws to a close: time.

Not all time is the same

Your student may be home longer this winter, as many colleges end earlier than usual and many  delay the start of spring semester. But no matter how long your student’s break from college, not all of their time should be the same. Students need different types of time to help them recharge from this “semester -like-no-other” and to prepare to move forward.

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Whether Your College Student Is On Campus or Home: 20 Ideas for a Successful Semester

This semester looks different at almost every college in the nation. As each school attempts to find ways to educate their students in the midst of a pandemic, there are students studying fully on campus, fully at home, studying in hybrid modes and just about everything in between. Some schools are already well into their semester, some haven’t yet begun their year yet, and many have had to pivot from their original plans.

All of this means that your student has already had to adapt and adjust to new ways of doing college. Whether your student is a brand-new first-year student or a veteran sophomore, junior or senior, the approach to college this year is a first for everyone.

As a parent, you worry first about whether your student will remain healthy, but you may also worry about how your student will fare with all of these new ways of learning. We all want our students to succeed.

If your student is studying remotely this semester, they don’t have access to the usual on-campus ways of finding support and contacting professors. But even those students who are on campus may find restricted in-person contact with services and faculty.

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8 Reasons Why a Summer Class May Make Sense for Your Student This Year

This spring has been unsettling, challenging, and downright scary for many of us, including our college students.  They’ve been uprooted from college and replanted at home, with little opportunity to go anywhere or see anyone other than their family. Like some garden plants, not all transplant well. All require a little extra care – some extra water and not too much sun – while they adjust.

Your student may have made the transition to college-from-home smoothly or may have struggled with this new learning environment. Fortunately for many students, the semester is either over or just about there.  It’s time for a collective sigh of relief.  However it turned out, at least it’s done.

Taking a break – or taking a class?

So why, then, might your student want to turn around and sign up for a class or two this summer – especially if they didn’t like this new online environment? Shouldn’t they just relax and breathe that sigh of relief that they got through it? Don’t they deserve a break?

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College Parent News & Views

News & Views – April 2020

The more that college parents know and understand about the college experience, the less we worry and the better we will be able to help our students to succeed and thrive throughout their college career.  However, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on the web.   We’d like to help you find some of the information that might be most interesting and useful to you as a college parent.

In News and Views we share recent college related news and sources we’ve found as we do our research.  We hope that this feature will help to introduce you to new ideas and to help you keep up with some of the current issues that may affect your college student – and you.

We invite you to read some of the articles suggested below – and to let us know what you think of some of the ideas included here.

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Completing the College Year at Home

It seems as though the entire world has gone upside down right now. Life is surreal and not a little bit terrifying. The Coronavirus dominates the news, most events have been cancelled, we’re all staying closer to home, some of us are working from home, schools are closing, and we all wonder what’s next.

If you have a college student, there’s a good chance that they are home, or headed home, possibly for the remainder of the school year. Many colleges are moving their courses online and it’s going to be a whole new world for many college students – and for their families.

We’re all going to be readjusting for the next few days. Everything feels awkward and out of place right now and it may take some time before your student finds their “new normal.” Stay flexible and go with the flow. Be available for your student, who may want to talk – or may not. Unlike Break, your student isn’t on vacation this time, they’ve just shifted where and how they’ll need to do college – at least for a little while.

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How to Drop Out of College (the Smart Way)

No, we’re not advocating that students drop out of college. Staying in college is a good thing and graduating from college is even better. But, unfortunately, a lot of students aren’t able to finish college as planned. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national six-year graduation rate is about 60%.  That means that 4 of 10 students who start college may drop out before graduating.

Why do students leave?

There are many reasons that students leave college.  There may be one overriding factor or there may be multiple factors. According to most surveys, the primary reason for leaving is financial. College tuition costs continue to rise and many students, and their families, find that they simply cannot continue to put together the necessary funds or continue to amass huge college loans.

Another reason for leaving is closely related to financial issues. According to one study, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 54% of students who attend college work full time.  Many of these students find that they cannot continue to balance a full time job and full time student load, and so they drop out.

Students may also leave college for reasons beyond financial. Some students find they are not prepared academically for college level work. Some cite lack of support or social difficulties such as fitting in, finding friends, or getting caught up in a culture of drinking or drugs. Some encounter mental health issues or lack the maturity to be able to function independently.  And some students may simply be unmotivated: perhaps they never wanted to attend college or they are uninspired by their major or field of study.

Whatever the reason, if your student begins to talk about dropping out of college, it can be scary. You’re not sure what to do or where to go from here.

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