Month: September 2020

Adjusting to College Life

Male Student Working In Bedroom on computer on our values pageAdjusting to college life this year is unlike any other. Some students are on-campus, while others are at home or living off campus. College services have had to change to adapt to where students are and how they are connecting to coursework and college opportunities.

In a normal year, most first-year college kids start the year happy and excited, only to get a few weeks in and find they are struggling. It’s usually right about now that they have their first tests or papers due and they find college academics are harder than high school. The newness of being on campus and away from home is no longer there; reality is setting in where they’re having to do their own laundry, be sure they’re getting to class on time, and balancing a job with their social life and academic life.

In this pandemic year, it’s not just first-year students who find themselves struggling. And the reasons they are struggling are more diverse. In a recent article on Inside HigherEd, the author presents concerns about an increase in the number of college students struggling with mental health due to the social and economic impact of the pandemic, and the concerns students have about their education and career prospects.

As parents, sending our kids off to college is already an emotionally difficult thing to do, regardless of how excited we are for them to have this new experience. When they call home unhappy or frustrated, or asking to come home or drop out, it’s even more heart-wrenching. We want our kids to be happy and we don’t want them to struggle more than necessary.

So what can family members do to support college students in their adjustment to college life this year?

First, understand that it is completely normal to have ups and downs as students adjust to living in a new place.

No matter how much they knew where they were headed and knew what to expect, going through it can still be really challenging. It’s what’s called culture adjustment – something that we apply regularly to those traveling abroad, yet also relevant to any new environment one finds themselves in.

Source: https://davidson.studioabroad.com/_customtags/ct_Image.cfm?Image_ID=270937

In short, we often have a pretty big high when we get to where we’re going. What follows is a downward trend as we try to adjust our habits and actions because of how different or difficult things are. The curve will move up and down as students adjust to the new environment and continue to be confronted with things that challenge their identity, ways of thinking, and ways of doing things. 

A lot of times it can be really helpful just knowing that this curve is real and happens to all of us, whether heading off to college, traveling to a new country, or moving out on our own for our first job. Putting it out there and talking about this is a good first step. 

Second, listen for how your student is feeling, not just what they are saying.

It’s not unusual for students to be feeling anxious, homesick, or lonely, especially in the age of pandemic protocols and concerns. Helping them identify their feelings and accept them as normal or common is really important. Being open and having a space to talk about their feelings without any judgment can go a long way in developing resiliency. Listen, reflect what you hear from them – whether it’s directly said or not – before you give them advice.  

Third, help empower them to seek out resources without solving their problems for them.

College is often a middle ground for true independence. They aren’t at home where you can swoop in and fix things for them, but they also aren’t without any resources while they are at college. While every college is different, there are three important resources for students to know.

  • First, their professors are there to help them succeed. They hold office hours and provide their contact information so students can get the help they need. Professors can also refer students to other resources on campus, like tutoring or time management help.
  • Second, seek out the academic support center. This might be in the library, within individual schools on campus, or its own center. Wherever it is, they offer resources for subject tutoring, time management, goal setting, organizational skills, and self-care.
  • Third, the counseling center on campus is there to help students who are struggling with any number of things. With high demand, it may take a while to get in to see a counselor, but they often provide resources and guidance to get back on track. Some centers offer ongoing programming that addresses common challenges students face.

Fourth, give them space.

Once you’ve listened and you’re both in agreement with what’s going on and how they’re feeling, and once you’ve given them advice, give them some space. In most cases, you are the safe place for them to vent and release some stress. Give them a chance to address what’s going on and move on from what’s troubling them. Set a day and time to check in on what they’ve done and the results of the actions they took, but don’t hover.

When to intervene.

College students are going to make mistakes, struggle, and even fail, and they need the space to do so. But as a parent, you need to go with your gut – you know your student best. If you feel concerned about your student’s safety, if you think they are engaging in risky behavior, or they are no longer taking an interest in things they always did, then you want to step in. Begin with expressing your concerns directly to your student. If you need additional guidance, reach out to the student life office on campus. While they may be limited in what they can tell you due to federal laws, they can provide resources to you and follow their process of well-checks on students. 

Remember that transitioning to college in a normal year can be challenging enough. Having open conversations about moments in your life that were challenging to work through may open the door to your student talking about what’s going on with them. And you might find there are some great lessons learned that you can share with each other.

For more resources on mental health, including finding help:

Mental Health America – https://www.mhanational.org/

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Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coachingcareer coachinglife coachingtransitions coaching.

An Exercise in Curiosity

question marksIn the training program leading to my certification as a Coactive Coach, we completed numerous practical activities to build and hone our coaching skills. The other day I was reminded of one, that in the moment, seemed incredibly difficult. We were to spend thirty minutes looking under our kitchen sink. Yep. 30. Long. Interminable. Moments. And it wasn’t to be just a stream of observation and criticism, it was an exercise in curiosity. You see, we were specifically instructed to notice everything we could but without judgment. We were asked to get intentionally curious about what was under the cabinet, but not to say if it was good or bad. Thoughts of the disorder or stained cabinet flooring were steadily replaced with “I wonder why the pipes are bent that way”. Or, “what’s the story of the persona that installed this”.

In all the years that have followed, I return again and again to this exercise, both as a practical activity and a metaphor. It leads to the potent understanding of curiosity and how it suspends judgment. My role as a coach is to get curious and ask powerful questions that deepen each client’s understanding of themselves. The benefits are transformational.

  • Curiosity leads to an openness to what is present rather than the closure of judgment
  •  It inspires a willingness to learn rather than assume what is happening
  • Most of all, it suspends judgment, which stifles creativity and growth and puts us at odds with potential learning

Developing the skill of curiosity is a beautiful way to stretch and grow, often with surprising results. As you do, you may find the scope of your questions expanding and deepening into what moves and motivates you. So, try this: open your cabinet, find a spot in nature that captures your attention, notice a meaningful object on your shelf, or anything else that can gain your focus for 30 minutes. If you notice judgment creeping in, simply acknowledge it and return to asking questions.

When you are finished take time to reflect on the experience. What did you learn about the experience? How might you apply this learning to other parts of your life? Drop us a note to let us know!

Getting to know your college options

College optionsGetting to know your college options

For high school students and families considering college, there are two critical things to do: (1) know one’s one interests, needs, and limitations, and (2) become familiar with colleges. Today we’re focusing on how to get to know colleges.

When you look at college websites or read their brochures, they seem pretty similar. Finding what makes them different and knowing whether or not they’re a good match for you is a little more challenging. There are a few things you can do, even these days as travel and in-person events are limited. 

College Fairs

College fairs have long been a way for students to be exposed to colleges in a time-efficient way. They are often held at a high school or community building, and they bring admission officers from a variety of colleges to one place for one day. Not only do students get to attend, but family members often do too. 

In one fell swoop, you get to meet admission officers and put your name on their radar as someone who is interested in the college. But these days, college fairs aren’t happening in person. But they are happening virtually. While not the same, they still provide a great opportunity to explore possible college options.

Check out these upcoming virtual college fairs:

Campus Visits

If you want to visit a campus in person, be sure to call in advance. First, you want to be sure they are currently allowing visitors to campus. Even outside of pandemic times, calling ahead is a good idea. Talk with an admission representative so they know you’re interested in the college. They can help arrange a schedule for you to sit in on classes of interests, have lunch with students, take a campus tour, and even have an overnight experience. While you’re on campus, you can meet with staff who can help you learn more about campus opportunities, or faculty members who can tell you more about your academic areas of interest. 

College Conversations

Talking with people during a campus visit is great, but don’t stop there. Ask your admission representative for names of alumni you can speak with, or the names of other students you can get in touch with. The more people you talk to, the more information you’ll get about the variety of experiences students have and what that means for life after college.

Check out these resources:

  • Campus Reel:  15,000 real videos, tours and experiences from 300+ college campuses.
  • YouVisit: Virtually visit 600+ colleges for free.
Take notes!

You’re likely going to explore a long list of colleges. It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed very quickly if you aren’t being methodical about how you keep track of all of the information you are looking at. Take notes as you read college materials and websites, talk with admission representatives, current students and others. You should record what you like and don’t like, what other questions you have, and anything that makes the college stand out to you.

There are a lot of really good colleges, and while there are a lot of similarities, there are also differences. The more time you spend getting to know the campuses and the people, the greater chance you will select the right campus for you. College is a big investment, so take the time to do your research.

Ask for help

College is one of the biggest investments a family can make. Whether you’re first in the family to go to college or not, the college search and application process – and the college experience – is different now than it was even ten years ago. So it’s not unusual for students and families to need help sifting through options, figuring out how to pay for college, and making progress in completing applications. High school guidance staff members are great resources; they have resources and tools that can be helpful for career and college exploration. Independent educational consultants, like myself, serve as an extension of school staff to provide more guidance outside of school hours. 

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 Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coaching, career coaching, life coaching, transitions coaching.

A mindful approach to grief

words related to mindfulness under a magnifying glass

Tara Haelle’s interesting post introduces some important ideas about the intersections of grief and loss with the crises of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ambiguous grief is central to our current experience and she offers some good strategies for managing it, including acceptance, setting reasonable expectations, and finding fulfillment in familiar activities.

Another challenge of the pandemic is our need for the “long view” or life after the pandemic. So much of our attention can be directed to the point in time when the pandemic ends, but as Haelle correctly notes, we are nowhere near the end. So how can focusing on the present moment by adopting a mindful approach to grieving be helpful?

  • Mindfulness engages us in the present moment. Cultivating mindful awareness gives us a sense of time and place and amplifies our sense of control over our circumstance
  • Focusing on the present reduces the stress of looking ahead and the “what-if’s” that come along with it
  • Mindful awareness, when coupled with attention to the breath, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system or the part of our wiring that is responsible for rest and relaxation

Mindfulness as a practice of self-care was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn who defines it as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. As I share this concept with my clients, I emphasize the non-judgmental nature of this focus. When we simply notice, rather than appraise what is happening and what we are feeling, we are better able to quiet the nervous chatter of the mind. Free from this distraction, we can then invest our energy in what is available in the present moment. 

Want to learn more? Join j for our Conversation Café on Monday September 21 at 7pm for a lively discussion about mindfulness and learn some practical applications for your daily life.

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Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coachingcareer coachinglife coachingtransitions coaching.

Why Hire an Independent Educational Consultant

The Value of Working with an Independent Educational Consultant

Teenage Students Walking Around College Campus TogetherWhen I left the university environment to pursue my own business as an independent educational consultant, aka “college coach,” it was a move borne out of a love for helping shape future generations. I was never called to be in the classroom like my parents, sisters-in-law, or husband. But I am profoundly passionate about one-on-one conversations with others, learning what makes them tick, helping them develop new skills, and supporting them in finding opportunities to continue their learning and professional growth.

I’m particularly passionate these days about helping others navigate the path to career and college success. Students and families need help and guidance beyond the traditional school day. There are only so many hours during the day that teachers and school staff have to give. They have their own families, interests, and obligations outside of their work. And while teachers and guidance staff go above and beyond, it’s hard to sustain that level of commitment for every student.

My role as an independent educational consultant (IEC) is to serve as an extension of what the schools are able to give. I partner with students and families, helping to gather information and provide guidance in determining which college is their right investment. Academic success and college pursuits don’t happen overnight, but rather as a result of strategic goal setting, hard work, and a strong support system.

Not every IEC is the same – we each have our own areas of interest, expertise, and way of working with families. If you’re needing additional help beyond what your school guidance staff and teachers are providing, an IEC may be a good resource for you. The Independent Educational Consultant’s Association, of which I am an associate member, has some great information on selecting an IEC.

Here are a few pieces of advice as you consider working with an IEC.
  1. Consider what you need help with. Do you need help finding college options or do you just need help with college essays? Do you need help understanding how to pay for college or apply for financial aid? Do you have all the information you need, but you just need a third-party, objective voice? Or do you need all of the above? Every family is different, and so is every IEC. Considering what you need as you begin to explore prospective IECs can help you determine which person to work with, as well as which services you need and which you can forego.
  2. Get to know prospective consultants before you hire them. Ask them about their educational background, how many years they have worked directly with students, and their expertise on the things you need help with. Consider their style and approach and how this fits you. This includes how they conduct meetings, what their fee structure is, and how they communicate with you and your student.
  3. Realize that hiring an IEC does not guarantee admission to a college or university. As part of IECA, or other professional organizations, there are ethical standards that IECs annually agree to. As part of these standards, we agree to not misrepresent a student’s record, interfere with the college’s evaluation of the candidate, or make any guarantees of admission. An IECs focus is to support and guide students and families through the process.
  4. Students are the focus of the IEC. While the college search and application process is better when family members are involved, the focus of the IEC is the student. As such, you can expect the IEC to ask the student to take responsibility for what needs to be done and to put their best effort forward. It’s important that you communicate clearly with the IEC early in the process to understand how and when family members will be involved.

College may be the biggest investment a family makes. IECs can help families maximize their investment by simplifying the search and application process, providing high quality resources, and supporting them as they make the best decision for the student and the family.

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Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coaching, career coaching, life coaching, transitions coaching.