I hope your student made it through the first week ok. I find that students generally get adjusted fairly quickly. If you think your student is still struggling with the adjustment, he/she may find guidance in the Student Success portion of the University Survival website. The contents of the website are from students who have gone through similar issues. Students, for the most part, still think college is like high school. Between now and the fourth week of the semester, they will probably continue their high school ways. Then when the fourth week arrives and they have their first round of tests, they will realize how different college is from high school. I’m convinced that there is nothing that can be done to convince them that they need to approach college differently.
One of the most important messages I can share with you is to insist your student seek out help as soon as a problem occurs, not after it’s too late. In some cases, students will face very serious problems that can affect their academic performance. Some of these include:
■ Death of a family member – Unfortunately there will be students every year who will lose a parent or a sibling. Deaths of grandparents are very common. Some students will also experience the death of a close friend.
■ Serious injury or illness – Several students who will have a health emergency (e.g. broken body part, a disease requiring hospitalization). We tend to think of college age students as being very healthy, but my experience is that this isn’t the case.
■ Parents’ divorce – college is a difficult adjustment for students. When parents decide to divorce or separate, students really struggle. I have found that some parents whose marriage is troubled will wait until a child is in college to separate. This is often a difficult challenge for students.
Most universities have accommodations for students who face personal illness or injury or experience the death of close family member. The Student Services office is the best point of contact on most campuses for such accommodations.
Most universities have a counseling center that can help students work through tough personal issues such as their parents’ divorce, relationship problems, adjustment issues, and self-esteem issues.
In addition to the serious issues listed above, students are likely to face a number of other issues. Some of the more common ones include:
- Loss of confidence
- Learning challenges (some of these are treatable by medications)
- Lack of focus
- Lack of academic skills (e.g. time management, learning in class, taking tests)
- Test anxiety
- Roommate issues
- Financial problems and problems due to excessive work schedules
- Culture shock
One of the best ways to meet some of these challenges is for students to become involved in student organizations. I have found that many personal issues tend to disappear when students find a group to join.
My point in mentioning these is not to alarm you but to let you know that these issues are fairly common. Again the earlier that students acknowledge these challenges, the better.
Let me close with two student stories. The first student is Bob. I taught Bob’s father in college and his dad tried to get Bob to see me for some help. Like many students, Bob was shy and didn’t want to ask for help. His first semester was a disaster. Bob did finally come to see me the second semester because he was on probation.
I then found out the problem was. Bob had a kidney transplant in high school and was on anti-rejection medication. He was also on depression medicine. He was facing serious medical complications due to drug interactions. The medical problems contributed to missed classes and other problems. Obviously, I couldn’t have dealt with Bob’s health issues, but I could have helped him with the accommodations he needed.
During the second semester, I saw Bob every week at 7 AM on Wednesday mornings. We became friends, and often we just talked after we discussed his grades. He got his medication problems resolved, but he was in a real hole from the first semester. Bob got off of probation and a new lease on life in both a figurative and literal sense. His plans are to become a medical doctor.
The second case is Kirk. I taught Kirk’s father, and his father told me that Kirk’s mother had breast cancer and asked me to look out for him. Kirk and I had a number of conversations over the next three years about his mother and how he could support her.
The first week of Kirk’s senior year, he came to my office and told me the end was near. We discussed how Kirk should handle his academic responsibilities when he was called home. I told Kirk that all he needed to do was tell me it was time, and that I would handle the rest.
When the time came, Kirk’s faculty were notified of the situation, and Kirk was allowed to make up the work that he missed. He’s graduated now and married. He has a wonderful career ahead of him. He was accepted into a prestigious development program in one of the leading corporations in the country.
One more story related to Kirk you will find interesting. Kirk had a test scheduled the day he came back to the university. Obviously he wasn’t prepared for the test. The teacher was insistent that he take the test when it was scheduled. One by one, Kirk’s classmates approached the teacher to argue his case. Finally the teacher was “persuaded” to let Kirk take the test later.
If the teacher hadn’t changed his mind, all of Kirk’s classmates planned to turn in tests with nothing on them so that Kirk would have the highest grade in the class.
That to me is the real essence of the kind of support that students can offer each other..