The Most Important Questions to Ask Your Student

How are you doing?  Can I offer you any support?

May has been designated Mental Health Month in the US. The number of both youth and adults that are suffering from mental health challenges continues to increase.

High school and college students are struggling at an alarming rate and they are not always reaching out for help. Please look at the resources I have posted below to learn which signs to watch for, and so you can check with your young adult to see if they need outside support.

Anxiety for some students stems from academic pressures. In these situations, it is beneficial to help your child identify what would help. A tutor? An ADHD or academic coach to help with time management, organization, or focus?

Are they overscheduled and need help to take a break from an activity until school is out? Be sure your child knows they don’t have to be perfect and you are totally okay with that!

Sleepresearch has shown how important sleep is for mental health. Ideally, students are getting eight hours of sleep and going to bed and waking at similar times all week. Many students would benefit from having their phone in another room at night.

If their anxiety or depression is more generalized, a mental health therapist can make all the difference. There is often a reluctance to get started and it can take time to find the right person. But it is so worth it to give your child relief and start on an easier path. You may also find these professionals can lower your stress level as a parent, as you no longer have to be the only adult trying to help.

I also want to point out that these challenges do not magically go away when your child moves away from home to attend college. In fact, if left untreated, the situation usually worsens and can be the reason your child does not succeed at college and needs to take a leave of absence or is asked to leave. That is tough to recover from and the student often feels a lot of shame and reduced self esteem as they try to piece things back together at a community college or in a job the following year.

Some students will benefit from living at home and attending community college, a transition program to help them ease into college with additional support, or a Gap Year to add some maturity and an increased sense of who they are and what direction they want to pursue. If your child does not seem ready for a traditional four-year college experience, it is best to keep an open mind about exploring alternatives.

I hope you and your family stay healthy this spring – both mentally and physically!

Mental Health Resources:

Important College List Considerations

This is a time when many juniors are exploring which colleges they will apply to in the fall. Some are intrigued by a large university with a robust sports scene and social life. Others are heavily influenced by the weather.

Of course, there are many more things to keep in mind when assembling your list of potential colleges. Here are a few that you may not have considered…

Freshman Housing. Recently, I listened to an admissions presentation from a large public university. Since my students would be coming from out of state, I asked, “How many years is on-campus housing guaranteed? The answer? Zero. It’s not even guaranteed for freshmen!

At this school, students must put down their university deposit and their housing deposit by early March in order to get a room on campus. That’s early, as students typically don’t have to commit to college until May 1! At that point, many students at this college will have to scramble to look for off-campus housing, which is a lot for a new college student to handle.

New State Laws. Recently, some states have made changes to laws regarding educational guidelines, reproductive rights, and the right to have firearms on campus. Make sure you consider what impact, if any, these changes may have on your decision to attend a college in one of these states.

Application Review Process. Some large public universities are only considering recalculated GPA’s (the college will assign a new GPA based on its formula) and SAT or ACT scores. Most schools continue to be test optional, but not all.

In other words, these schools do not take personal essays, teacher recommendation letters, or a student’s activities outside of class into account in admissions. Ask how your application is reviewed or find that information on the admission website.

Merit Aid. Paying full price at a school where your student is barely able to be accepted may not be the best fiscal plan for your family. On the other hand, if you have schools on the list that are a good fit – but not as popular or selective – your student may be offered significant merit aid. It can add up to significant dollar savings over four or more years.

Keep in mind that your student may need to maintain a certain GPA at college in order to keep a merit scholarship year to year. That may be more manageable if they are at a school that is at the right academic level for them.

New Acceptance Reality. Many of the more selective colleges have become extremely restrictive in the number of students they are admitting. With that in mind, and to avoid surprise and disappointment, make sure your student also applies to schools where there is a strong likelihood of being admitted.

Majors. If your student is applying directly into a major and is not accepted, will there be an opportunity to transfer in later? Further, if your student is interested in a restricted major and it is not a direct entry path as a freshman, find out what percentage of students are successful in being admitted at the end of sophomore year. Finally, if your student is undecided on a major, find out if the school in question has an advising and exploratory program to help them find their passion.

Type of learning. Is your student looking to be anonymous in a big lecture setting, or would they prefer smaller classes with active discussion and participation? Are they most comfortable with multiple choice exams or with written essay prompts? Are there hands-on learning opportunities available (group projects, fieldwork, labs, research, internships, co-ops)?  These factors and more regarding the type of learning can have a significant impact on your student’s academic success and satisfaction.

Support. Many students are struggling at college these days – academically, emotionally and socially. Look into the support available to all students and pay close attention to whether the overall environment feels right regarding student competitiveness, accessibility of professors, etc.

As you fine-tune your student’s college list this spring, make sure to discuss these important factors!

(More details on this topic can be found in my February newsletter, here.

Summer … A Golden Opportunity

Some students worry that their academic qualifications do not stack up well when compared to those of their peers. Fortunately, summer can be a time to help level the playing field as they prepare for college applications and their lives as young adults.

Grades, test scores, and whether or not your family has the resources to send your child on an amazing volunteer trip need not come into play here. Everyone can find something to do in the summer that will be worth talking about in a college interview and that may make them stand out in a crowded field of applicants.

More important, it will genuinely move your child along on his/her path to maturity and increased self-awareness. It may even help with the discovery of a passion or a career direction.

Summer activities can help your teenager learn about their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. It can help increase independence, provide a sense of responsibility, develop an ability to interact with and accept feedback from people they do not know well, and even realize the consequences of not following through with commitments. Some provide a much-needed opportunity for fun and connection with peers!

A job, internship, or volunteer experience is a great way to accomplish many of these goals. Similarly, something as informal as learning how to code online, set up a regular time to visit/help an elderly neighbor, help at a local food pantry, start a lawn or pet-sitting business, help a non-profit with its social media presence, tutor a younger student, and more, can have a big impact.

It’s Not Too Late

I’ve been talking with my students about planning for the summer for a while. But I know there are still many teens who do not yet have a plan. It is not too late, but finding a worthwhile summer activity does take work and persistence. Also, I find that this is an area in which your child may need some encouragement and help (from you) in brainstorming options, thinking outside the box, and finding an opportunity that feels worthwhile.

Here are some questions to help get your child started:

  • How much available time is there to add something new (considering current responsibilities / commitments)?
  • Does your child need to make money? Is there money to spend on an activity or experience?
  • Is there a career interest that could be explored? Either through a formal career exploration program or by setting up shadowing opportunities with acquaintances to learn about various careers.
  • Is there a class or a weekly tutoring session that will make a difference for school in the fall? This may be the time to learn some more effective study skills, communication skills, or work on strategies for writing.
  • Is there an interest that has not been fully explored? Maybe there is a class that is non-academic – cooking, photography, painting, woodworking, modern dance, etc. Or maybe there is a neighbor who is skilled in an area of interest and who could use a volunteer and teach some skills at the same time.

There are many free or low-cost virtual classes available on both academic and purely fun topics. Learn to code from Code Academy, learn photoshop and editing from the Education Channel on YouTube, sharpen Spanish skills with daily practice on Duolingo.

Other class platforms include Coursera, EDx, Udacity, Udemy, and Skillshare (there are many more). Teen Life lists many structured summer programs here.

Ideally, your child will uncover something that he or she is passionate about and excited to pursue, either as a possible career focus or leisure activity. Having an area of intense interest can help a teen blossom and weather many of the less-than-positive experiences that they need to get through on their way through high school. Learning what they do not like can be important, too, as is the ability to tolerate some boredom or frustration.

Whatever your child decides to focus on this summer, and however it turns out, they will have gained some skills and insights into their strengths and have something of substance to talk about when the college interviewer asks that inevitable question: “How did you spend your summer?!”