How do you help college students whose first year didn’t go as planned?
May is an emotional month, with hopes and dreams colliding with disappointment and confusion.
I’m currently hearing from all types of families: One phone call is from a parent frantically seeking help for their child who ended the school year well below their classmates, and the next phone call is a former student calling to invite me to their graduation party. The two stories could not be more different.
Ending the Academic Year
The longer I am in this business, the more emotional May becomes, and I believe it is because my collection of stories grows as each year passes. Every story is unique to the child but begins with the common thread of someone needing hope.
I find myself telling the parents just starting out on this journey, that if they could see what I have seen, then they would know what I know is possible.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where seeing is believing, and trusting the unknown gets more challenging every day.
When Freshman Year is Bad
Today I want to focus on the college student who finished their freshman year in despair. I am writing this for the parent who finds themself at the bottom of the mountain again. Wondering how they got there when they were confident getting their kid to college was the last mountain that they had to climb. I have a story to share.
Meet Philip: a College Freshman
I met Philip (name changed to protect his identity) the summer following his freshman year of college. His mom called me distraught over her “gifted” child who had underperformed, lost his scholarship, and failed multiple classes.
The mom questioned how this could happen to such a bright student. Upon evaluating Philip, it became clear that while his intelligence was in the gifted range, there was a significant weakness in his executive function skills (organizing, planning, time management, initiation, and emotional regulation).
Intelligence Versus Performance
The tension between his intelligence and his performance was causing the struggle, and I could easily see how college had been a challenge. Philip and I began working together. His story is too long for a blog, but there are highlights that need to be mentioned.
Whenever you work with a college student, you have to find their WHY.
A thread of motivation that the student could hold onto as they climb back up on the horse and ride again.
For Philip, the thread was his determination to return to the University where he had failed.
While I did believe that Philip wanted to return, he showed no signs that he was eager to put in the work. As a matter of fact, he was in denial that he had flunked out. Because he had weak executive skills, his metacognitive skills were also weak and prevented him from being totally self aware of his current situation.
His parents were also 100% against the idea of paying for another semester of college that would not count for anything.
Coaching College Students
Following the evaluation, explaining to Philip and his parents the plan, the time and financial commitment that would be involved, Philip and I began working together. We worked on increasing his working memory and executive function skills, which in turn got him to a place of self awareness where coaching could be implemented. Day by day, I started to see change and
I knew that we could get to his goal.
He was not ready for the fall semester but if we continued to work hard, the spring semester was possible. I brought his parents in and showed them the data, gave them the report, and my professional opinion that he was ready to return and I would continue to coach him weekly to make sure that he began on the right foot.
Turning Freshman Failure Into Triumphant Graduation
Fast forward to May 2022. Philp and I had our last meeting and he said that he wanted to show me something. He pulled out his graduation tassel with the number 2021 and said, this is what I will be wearing on graduation day. I was confused. So he explained.
He told me that when he entered college, the university gave all of the freshman class the tassel with their projected graduation date. He held onto it. He never lost sight of his vision, to graduate from the University.
He said that while the date has changed and his path took longer, this 2021 tassel symbolizes to him his comeback story and one that he is incredibly proud of.
I would love to tell you that I held back the tears until the zoom ended, but I didn’t. Instead, they flowed down my cheeks like rain because this kid did come back.
He got his butt kicked during his first round of college, but he stood back up, was willing to work on his skills, and reentered the fight. This time he won.
Next week he will graduate Magna Cum Laude, another goal he set for himself, and he has an amazing job waiting on him.
Helping College Students in the Road Ahead
To the class of 2022, congratulations. To the come-back kids of 2022, I salute you. To the parents who are wondering if their child will make it through the next school year, I have hope for you.
Are you facing a college student in academic trouble? There is always more to the picture. I’d be happy to talk it through with you, meet your student via Zoom, and work on a path forward together.
Schedule a free 10 minute consultation here.