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Aug 05, 2021
Transitioning to college is always difficult, but for the semester ahead, students and parents alike are more anxious than ever about the upcoming fall. During a year filled with upheaval and uncertainty, college life shifted dramatically, eliminating the traditional college experience many students had anticipated. But this fall, students are likely looking at a more “normal” semester of in-person classes, on campus activities, and other social events (albeit with the possibility of masking or distancing). Whether your student is returning to campus for another semester or beginning their journey as a freshman, chances are you both have concerns about the adjustment.
You’re not alone. Our team has been having countless conversations with parents who feel the same. This prompted us to bring together a panel of experts across multiple disciplines related to mental health and student success to provide comprehensive advice on this year’s college transition.
Before the webinar, we asked registrants to share what their biggest worries were about the school year ahead. In this week’s blog, we’ll be sharing our panelists insights into the top 5 biggest concerns parents are having about their student’s transition back to campus. Let’s dive right in.
Out of the over one-hundred submissions from parents, the number one concern revolved around their student’s ability to advocate for themselves on campus. Although we as coaches know first-hand the importance of self-advocacy in college, we were amazed to see that so many parents were worried about this particular skill most of all. Oftentimes, parents are deeply involved in their student’s academic life before college, so determining the right level of involvement during this transition can be a real challenge. According to our panelist, Dr. Arjune Rama - a board-certified psychiatrist and psychotherapist specializing in young-adult mental health - the most important thing parents need to do to address this issue is to first consider the extent that they want to be involved in their students’ college experience, and then ask their student the same question:
“It’s important to set predetermined boundaries before the semester actually begins,” says Dr. Rama. “Having a conversation around your involvement beforehand creates transparent expectations and parameters around things like phone calls or school related check-ins before the semester gets stressful, panic sets in, and parents feel the need to overreach for damage control, By giving your student the space to make age-appropriate mistakes, they can gain a better sense of what they actually need and feel empowered to seek those supports independently.”
When it comes to actually seeking those supports, another one of our panelists, Brittany Peterson - a coach at Beyond BookSmart and lecturer at University of Massachusetts, Boston - emphasized the importance of building relationships with your professors and other adults on campus. She also shared her creative way of approaching this relationship through a series of exchanges, similar to a bank account:
"Think of building relationships with instructors like a bank account,” says Brittany. “You make deposits by participating in class, completing homework, and attending office hours prepared with thoughtful questions. Making these kinds of deposits throughout the semester means you'll be more successful when making withdrawals, such as when you need to miss a class or ask for an extension on an assignment. “
Now that you have some new insights for navigating self-advocacy, it’s time to tackle the second most pressing worry around the college transition: time management. Strong time-management skills have always been important, but in college they become absolutely critical. Between the demands of multiple classes and the complicated web of exam dates, deadlines, and extracurriculars to remember, it’s no wonder why parents worry about their student’s ability to juggle it all. Martha (Moe) Summa, an Educational Consultant at College Consulting Collaborative, has some practical tips from the panel that your student can start using on week one of the semester:
“I always recommend that students transfer their syllabi information, such as exams days and project due dates, right onto their digital calendar when classes begin,'' says Moe. “This allows students to get a big picture view of the semester. I also recommend including extracurriculars such as games or club commitments on the calendar, as well as when breaks in classes are scheduled, to help students get a sense of when the “hot weeks” are. This helps them anticipate challenging periods and plan accordingly.”
Many of our panelists also recommend using a digital calendar to map out when the assignments would actually get done once the deadlines are approaching. To actually get started on these tasks, Brittany shared her own strategy:
“Start each day by opening up 3 website tabs: your calendar, your to-do list, and your email. This will orient you to what’s important for your day ahead. Many instructors will expect you to check your email daily for important messages, too.”
Making these checks part of a daily routine will ensure that students are always on top of their priorities and in the loop with the most recent updates from professors. Simply being aware of what’s important is critical in managing time more effectively.
When considering the college transition, many of the common challenges students face are rooted in the change towards a less structured environment. Unsurprisingly, worry around this shift was the third most common pain point for parents this year. So what can you do about it?
From her work as an Educational Consultant, Moe has found that many students benefit from easier first semesters.
“I always recommend that students start with a reduced course load in the first semester if they’re worried about the work, or at the very least take a pass/fail option for a particular class,” says Moe. “This can give students some time to get used to the routines of college without the added stress of a full course load. Research what the Academic Dean offers for courses in case change is needed.”
In addition to being mindful of the course load that first semester, our panelists emphasized the importance of students creating their own structure:
“It’s easy to think there’s a ton of free time when you’re not in class 6-hours a day like you were in high school.” says Brittany. “Although this may be true to an extent, most professors are expecting that students are spending time every day on their coursework outside of their scheduled class time. To keep up with this expectation and create some structure in the week, set aside a dedicated ‘study hall’ each day, put it on your calendar, and invite a friend or roommate to help you both stay accountable for using this time to do work.”
One of the consequences of the past year has been a dramatic increase in mental health related challenges among students. This is particularly true for college students, as recent studies have shown that they’re more burnt-out, anxious, and susceptible to depression than ever before - so it’s no wonder why worries around mental health proved to be the fourth most common concern among parents. Luckily, our panelists had some practical insights to tackle this challenge. As a psychiatrist who specializes in the mental health of young adults, Dr. Rama emphasized the importance of anticipating these challenges by coordinating with the mental health services around campus before arriving:
“There’s two streams of mental health services to be aware of,” says Dr. Rama. “One is the campus mental health services, and the other is the local network of private practices around the college. Before your student even arrives on campus, look into the school’s mental services and the available practices around the area and have them make an appointment now to meet with someone when they arrive on campus. Dr Rama continues, “it’s essential to do it now because once they step on campus, there are so many other things going on that they’ll likely forget. And by the time they realize they need the help, the services may be overwhelmed with other students with similar challenges.”
Beyond mental health services, our panelists also recommend creating a balanced schedule filled with fun outlets students can look forward to:
“Have at least one course and one activity you are jazzed about each semester to set the stage for full engagement and find the high point in every day - even when the workload gets intense,” says Moe.
Last but certainly not least, navigating the social landscape of college proved to be the fifth biggest concern among parents. After a year of increased isolation, social anxiety has emerged as a big issue for many students. Even so, our panelists were confident that students could learn to cope with their social anxiety by finding communities on campus related to their interests:
“Encourage your student to get involved in on-campus activities and organizations,” says Dr. Rama. “Having strong social connections has so much to do with shared interests and experiences, so finding opportunities to get involved with interests that they currently have or ones they think they might want to try is the perfect jumping off point to meet like-minded people.
No matter what you and your college student's worries are about the upcoming semester, be assured that there are supports available on and off campus to help them adapt to college life that looks more “normal” this year than in 2020
Sean Potts is the Marketing Specialist at Beyond BookSmart and a recent graduate of Ithaca College’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. As a former coaching client and intern at BBS, Sean has spent the better part of the last ten years witnessing firsthand the positive impact Beyond BookSmart's mission has on transforming students’ lives.