Holiday Blues for Students

Your students may be suffering more than you know.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and Channukah and Christmas are around the corner. This time is usually a time of rest for students. However, some are facing going home with dread.

Today one of those students told me how they thought about jumping off of the top of a parking garage. As the fall semester comes to a close many students, like this one, are anxious about going home and telling their families that they are failing classes. Rather than face the disappointment, ridicule, or wrath of family and friends, some students would rather end their lives.

This is the time when families start asking students about their classes and school life. What many families don’t realize is that the how, when, and why these questions are asked impact their student psychologically.

Consider asking your student how they are doing in private rather than at the family dinner table. When these questions are asked in front of others it can feel as though the student is on display rather than truly being cared for. What’s worse is if the student isn’t performing well then they don’t have any room to tell the whole truth without facing the embarrassment of failing in front of family and friends.

Pull your student aside well before the hullabaloo of the holidays so that you can have an honest one-on-one with them. If the student is in their first year then do not necessarily panic if their grades are not where you think they should be. Nearly everyone has an adjustment period. Listening to your student talk through what they are going through, both negative and positive, can help them cope with their challenges, and follow through with the last few weeks of the semester to be as successful as they can be.

Students’ mental health can be especially fragile around the holidays as they are met with the hopes and expectations of loved ones. How loved ones respond can determine if students are able to cope well or feel as though they have no way out.

Finally, if a student is suicidal there are people that can help. Most schools have a helpline students can call 24 hours a day. Counseling staffpersons are not off during break, and at least one person will be in the office to answer questions about how to get help for your student even at home. In addition, if you, or anyone else needs help immediately, then please call the National Suicide Hotline at 800.273.8255.

 

Put Your Own Mask On First

This morning I attended a wonderful ceremony for students graduating from a summer program intended to develop their interest in health care careers. Students from a variety of universities came together to take courses in math, statistics, physics, and chemistry. However, the end of the ceremony left me most saddened after the student speaker delivered his remarks.

The student who closed the ceremony was well liked, affable, and thoughtful. He had finished in the top five of the class. At the very end of his speech he recognized one of his classmates who had aided him with his studies, and often stayed up late at night helping him understand the material. She did not finish in the top five.

I have seen this phenomenon over and over again. Community involvement has been so ingrained into black women’s lives that we often sacrifice ourselves in order to be sure we all get ahead. Yet, as the flight attendants tell you before takeoff on an airplane, you must put your mask on first before you can assist someone else. You must take care of your own health and well-being before being there for others.

Self-care has become a buzzword in many spaces, but self-care does not always have to mean luxurious bubble baths. Self-care can also mean prepping for your own exams alone until you feel sufficiently prepared to do well.

I’m sure the young lady will do well as she pursues her medical dreams, but I hope she also recognizes that she has to take the time out to help herself first. Keeping that in mind will ensure she is truly lifting as she climbs and not being stepped past.

Admitted!

Today we’re proud of our student Katiera Rutledge! Katiera is a student we’ve worked with over the past two years who was interested in transferring from her community college to the University of Maryland at College Park. Her story was featured here.

Katiera was originally denied admission, but after some encouragement from us, called the Admissions Office to find out how to become a stronger application. At that point the Admissions Office discovered that her file had simply been misfiled! Katiera had earned admission to her dream school after all.

This student’s story tells us a few things about the transfer process.

1) It can sometimes be scary. 

Katiera was used to the community college setting, and, even though she wanted to transfer, was a bit reluctant to apply to the larger, flagship school. We worked to demonstrate just how prepared, and ready she truly is, to allay the “I’m not good enough” fears.

2) Follow up can make all the distance.

Katiera did not call the university ranting, but she did ask questions regarding her application, and what she could do to make it stronger. Not all universities are open to such calls, but the lesson here is to let them tell you no rather than assuming the answer without speaking to someone first.

3) Seek outside help. 

Katiera has worked with us over the two years to bridge the gap between her community college and her dream school. Guidance counselors, and university officials are great places to start looking for information about college or transfer, but don’t discount the web, and books! There are a wealth of people in the world who want to see students succeed, and are willing to answer questions. This site is one of those places as well.

Hiding from the Economy With Loans

Dear Student:

I know that the American employment landscape is quite frightening and has been for a while. Friends of mine are moving home to regroup and figure out how to survive while looking for work, or even as full time employees! It is tough for everyone and I want to fully acknowledge that. However, despite how safe school feels you have to go ahead and get out there.

I’m quite saddened and, quite frankly, startled to see young people staying in school unnecessarily to avoid facing the economy. Most colleges only require 120 credits to graduate, but I am seeing students with 150 and more. Some of these students say they are adding a second major to be more competitive. However, I implore you to figure out the long term costs.

Tuition at my institution is quite expensive. Tuition, fees, room and board tops 56 thousand dollars. 56 thousand dollars is more than many Americans earn per year. Staying in school to add extra credits at a cost of 56 thousand dollars does not make long term fiscal sense. Even if your university expenses are less think about what your starting salary may be and how you will pay off that extra year of schooling.

Even though the economy is tough it is better to get out there and start your career and build experience. You may have to live at home and that’s okay. You may have to share an apartment or house with several friends. Again, doing so is okay, and actually pretty fiscally sound if you put away the money you save on rent and pay down student loan or credit card debt contribute to your retirement or put it in a good old savings account.

If you insist on staying in school then I suggest that you earn another credential. Adding credits to your bachelor’s degree does not help in the marketplace. Also, employers may question why you did not graduate on time. Earn a certificate or master’s degree if you can instead. You may not be able to use the graduate education right away, but at least there will be tangible evidence of your extra time in school.

Sincerely,

Shonda

What are your fears about graduating and getting out there? Maybe we can offer some solutions. Leave a comment.

MOOCs and Being First Gen

In our office we recently had our first dust up with MOOCs, or massively open online courseware. A student was attempting to transfer in an edX class and we had to figure out how to explain that this type of credit was not sufficient for our institution.  I have nothing against MOOCs for personal enrichment. edX seems to offer a wonderful array of courses for anyone who wishes to be a lifelong learner. The danger is when students do not know the difference.

Many MOOC sites do explain that their courses may or may not count for academic credit at a traditional college or university, but sometimes this information is hard to find. If you find yourself unsure about your classes and whether they transfer look for a few key things:

  • Are there any admissions requirements? A regionally accredited university requires some sort of documentation that you attended and completed high school or a GED equivalent. This is true of for-profit, online education and traditional non-profit schools. If a site allows you to take classes without any such documentation then it is likely that the site is meant for “fun” and not mean to be transferable.
  •  Are the classes free? With the budget cuts all American colleges are experiencing you can trust and believe that no credit-bearing class is going to be free.
  • Is the site separate from the main university site? Many of these courses are taught by faculty from prestigious institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley, but unless you have gone through the admissions process at the main university site then you are not enrolling in an actual course from these institutions.

MOOCs are a wonderful way to enrich your life and help you really hone a knowledge base. I liken them to the Khan Academy, which helps refresh a student’s memory on concepts long forgotten, or even reinforces what one learned in traditional classes. However, if your desire is degree attainment then please reach out to the admissions counselor at your local community college, or four-year public or private university.

Square Peg – Round Hole

As a practitioner in higher education I see students at all stages of growth simultaneously. It is not unusual for my day to begin with an undeclared freshman and end with seniors ready to tear into the world. One thing I’m noticing across the spectrum is a disconnect between desired occupation and the requisite skills needed to join the occupation.

Most recently I’ve seen students interested in prestigious companies, agencies, or titles, but with little desire to learn the skills necessary to reach those positions. For example, one may want to work for the United Nations or the International Monetary Fund, and yet, not want to travel abroad, not want to experience a culture that does not speak English, and yet wants to train workers who may go abroad. Another example, is a student who wishes to go to law school but hates writing. In fact these students typically emphatically dislike any course that includes writing. In discussing options with these students it can be challenging to steer them toward their interests and aptitudes while not appearing to crush the dream they’ve had since they were seven. However, we must challenge these ideas if we are to be of service to our students.

The disconnect between skill and desire is coming from multiple aspects of a student’s life. Some students are pressured by parents to get a “good job.” Other students are listening to the reports that say if they do not major in science, engineering or mathematics (STEM) then they are doomed. Other students are looking at their student loan balance reports and are trying to head for the sure bet come hell or lack of interest in a field. Inevitably these students fail miserably in their courses or eventually in their ability to get a job because they cannot articulate a true purpose for why they are interested in their subject of study. These students are outperformed by those who actually want they thing, whatever it is, that they are going for.

It is debatable whether the United States really needs more STEM graduates. It is certainly debatable that humanities and social science degrees do not pay off. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook shows art students doing fairly well: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/home.htm. These students are not wealthy, but they aren’t impoverished either. What I see in my work is that regardless of the degree, if the holder is not enthused about the work then the job hunt is merciless as they are beat out by passionate and skilled individuals. Toning down the rhetoric that one must be in one field to do well would go a long way to ensuring that students choose majors and careers that are a good fit.

No Such Thing as “Backup” Education

I met with a nervous and scared student recently. This student thrives in artistic arenas. However, instead of following her gut and just majoring in theater she was double majoring in a subject in which she had no interest. You could tell that the student had zero interest in the subject through both her body language and her grades! While in my office she was crunched into a ball while talking about the second major, and her grades in the classes were quite different from her stellar marks in theater.

So why was the student torturing herself? She believed the hype. She believed that there are no jobs out there for people in the arts, and she added the second major to boost her chances of getting a job. However, what she didn’t know has tanked her grade point average. First, the second major she undertook requires a graduate degree to even begin to make more money than she could as an artist. Second, the job market for that sector isn’t strong either. Third, there are plenty of theater venues in Washington, D.C. and her time would have been better spent gaining experience than taking on coursework for which she had no zeal.

Fortunately, this student has one-year remaining of her formal undergraduate education, and she came to check-in with her advisor instead of waiting until the last minute to do a graduation review. The lessons I hope students learn from this young lady is that there really is no such thing as backup education. If you aren’t invested in what you’re learning then you simply won’t do well, and low GPAs can make life more challenging than being in the “wrong” major.

Follow your talents.

Fish in the Wrong Water


This morning I spoke with a very concerned mother regarding her son’s ability to cope with the social environment of the University.  This family is affluent enough to afford private school tuition, but doesn’t take trips to Aspen every weekend to ski, nor do they vacation in Europe on a regular basis.  The family is making sacrifices to give this student the opportunity to attend this very expensive institution.

What is the problem you say? Well, many, though not all, students here are able to afford lavish lifestyles, and it makes other students feel as though they cannot keep up or fit in.  What the mom and student do not know is that MOST of our students are receiving some sort of financial aid.  That MOST of our students aren’t traveling the world.  This student feels out of place when he really is the norm.  Nonetheless, these facts don’t negate this student’s feelings of inadequacy.

Here are a few tips to combat the affluence blues:

1) Before you apply ask students about the social climate of the school.  Usually, the admissions office will pair prospective students with current students. Ask them to honestly tell you what the campus environment is like.  What is even better is a visit before you sign on the dotted line committing to attend.

2) Find activities where you can be an All-Star Rookie Freshman. One of the biggest problems for students is not finding a venue where they excel. They are bored with their high school activities, or are unable to continue them at the college level, and don’t know what to do next. College is the time to try things you’ll never have time to do when you have a full-time job so try what interests you.  Join a greek organization, intern somewhere, play ultimate frisbee and touch football, and attend student government meetings.  Feeling like you excel at something is one of the easiest ways to be happy.

3) Choose a major that matches your abilities.  Number three should probably be number one.  Many students want a proscribed career track that guarantees a lifetime of comfortable earnings.  However, many of these same students actually hate the classes that go with that proscribed major. They are prospective pre-med students who hate biology and chemistry.  They are engineering students who hate math.  These students end up failing these courses not because they aren’t capable, but because they are following a path that is a bad fit for them.  One of the best things you can do for yourself is be honest about your desires and abilities and act on them.  The path may not be straight and narrow, but it’ll be one where you can succeed above your expectations.

Get Advised Early and Often

graduation day
Graduation Day

At some universities your academic advisor may contact you.  He or she may send you an email to your school email account reminding you of upcoming deadlines.  However, at many universities academic advisors expect you to take responsibility for your education.  They expect that if you have a question then you will come in and ask!

There is nothing more heartbreaking than telling a student that he or she cannot graduate on time because they are missing requirements.  Usually when this happens I have tried to contact a student several times.  Emails were sent.  Nonetheless, all of my efforts are naught as I have to send the final email which begins: “I regret to inform you but. . .”

The students who do not run into major problems are the ones who come to see me early and often.  They ask questions about policies they do not understand.  The ask whom they can speak with regarding special circumstances.  They send emails asking me to look over their degree plan and potential course schedule.  In other words, the best students aren’t the ones who know everything, but they do know where to go to find answers.