It is not unusual for our children to have educational support services beyond the classroom experience. Many children work with tutors and coaches to master material, prepare for high stakes tests, and process the bumps of development and/or time management. The results are often wonderful. Children feel successful in school and life, parents can breathe and focus on family, and the schools welcome the support given their time and personnel constraints. This system works well and can continue all the way from elementary school through high school.
The familiarity of the learning and school environment changes drastically when children enter the college-level education system. Many beginning college students struggle with the adjustment, and it can take a semester, or even the first full year, for them to figure out how to learn, complete work, and balance their school-social life in a new way. Grades of C or above, reports of new friends, and phone calls/texts about college adventures are all positive indications that a child is settling into college life.
Issues of concern occur when the adjustment to college does not go as planned. Work is not turned in or is deemed unacceptable, classes are missed, and phone calls/texts are short and vague. These can be signs that the child is struggling and may need additional support.
So what does a parent do to give their child the best chance of success in college?
Read on for a roadmap for helping your child transition to college and maximally succeed in their freshman year.
- Most colleges have learning support departments. Some schools have academic support services available within these departments. While it is important to provide paperwork so your child can receive accommodations, it is important to realize what the accommodations can do as well as what their limitations are. These departments have limited personnel and a large number of students who need support. However, they put the onus on the student to come to them to set up services. It is best practice to assume support from the college is only a part of the big picture of what your child needs for academic success in their first year.
- Most colleges have parental portals. All parents should familiarize themselves with, and set up access to, these portals. They contain valuable information. The interesting question involves how much access parents should have when it comes to student portals. Having privacy is a right that all individuals, including children, have. However, privacy does not just come with chronological age; it comes with maturity, developmental age, and meeting expectations. Consider the following: set up a time each week where your child shares the information on the portal with you so you can see attendance, grades, and missing assignments. You can review progress with them and discuss next steps. By doing this on a regular basis, there are no surprises at the end of a semester. It’s important for your child to show you the portal either by sharing their screen or in person if they live at home. “Telling” you about progress allows for too much interpretation.
- Most colleges have a parent orientation. Orientations offer great advice for parents, especially first time college parents on a variety of topics, including accessing support on campus. When college students feel overwhelmed, their problem-solving ability decreases. Having important information can be helpful when parental guidance is needed for rough college moments.
- All support (therapy, coaching, general educational support) that was in place in high school, should be in place for the start of college. Unless the professional is not comfortable with college-age students, it is a good idea for the same individual to continue to support your child. It can be comforting to have a familiar person to work with, and they know your child. As a result, they can jump right in and offer support. With the increased use of video conferencing, it is easy to provide support regardless of location.
- Your child may be 18, but will not be an official “adult” in all areas of development. Children who struggle with attention and executive functioning are often delayed in development in these specific areas that affect school performance. As an 18 year old, they may thrive in the social and emotional realm. In the classroom, it may be a different story. They may be more like a 14-15 year old from an attentional or executive functioning perspective. We need to keep these considerations regarding their attention and executive functioning development in mind as it relates to support in college.
- Conversations about support need to start in the spring semester of 12th grade and continue through the freshman year. It is vital to have these conversations with your child multiple times and to elicit their thoughts and plan together with them what support may look like. Conversations that take place over time allow the topic to normalize and create opportunities to discuss future increases and decreases in support based on performance.
- Time management takes on a new meaning in college. A good rule of thumb is that for every hour of lecture or lab time, two hours should be set aside for homework, reviewing, and previewing material. Time blocking, which is setting aside specific hours each day for school work outside of class, may be helpful in making a schedule. So, while your child may want to participate in many activities, it may be helpful to start with a couple of activities at the beginning that can fit in around the time blocking needed to meet the academic work. Consider adding activities as the ability to balance the academic rigor of college with the social activities increases.
- Don’t be afraid to do a reset even in the middle of a semester. Under stressful conditions, we can all become black and white in our thinking. Thus, college students and their parents can conclude either college is working or it’s not working. There may be additional options to consider. Perhaps, dropping a class mid-semester, so the focus can be on the successful outcome of other classes, or hiring a tutor to help with test preparation or editing a paper. These outcomes may involve financial considerations as well, but the reduction in feelings of overwhelm and the ability to complete other classes with better outcomes might be worth it.
- There are always three choices: this, that, and the other. One of the positive changes we have seen since the pandemic is that college classes come in a variety of forms. Maybe your child does well in conventional in-person classes, maybe they will do better with an online class, or maybe taking a summer class either through the college or a partner program is a way to decrease feelings of overwhelm and keep up progress towards a degree. It is all worth investigating BEFORE there are issues so that options are always part of the discussion. One caveat: always check with the college to see which classes and which programs will count for class credits.
- Consider carefully before enrolling in minimesters. A minimester or miniterms is usually a full semester length class that is offered in a condensed amount of time. Although it can sound appealing to get through a class in a short amount of time, the pacing can make it difficult, especially when there is more than one class to complete.
College is a time of growth for everyone. It’s a complex and challenging experience, especially for neurodivergent learners. Students who struggle with academics, attention, and executive functioning can navigate and be successful in college. It can take time and extra support to ensure progress. As with many things, it is better to know and anticipate bumps in the road, especially on the college journey, rather than to scramble to come up with solutions when things become really stressful.
If this was helpful to you, you may want to consider the Big Book of Tools and or the Pocket Guide of Tools for more strategies to help your child deal with their stuff, time and information. Check out www.michelleporjes.org for information about ordering.