Tips for Handling Academic Stress
by Brigid Godvin, Academic Director, The Student Connection
For many of our brightest college students, going home for the holidays doesn’t mean a vacation away from school pressure. The stress stays with them. And they feel stressed out as never before in their lives.
Freshmen, especially, will report they’ve just completed some of the most difficult and thorough exams they’ve ever taken. Upperclassmen may’ve had a rough start to their year, making them feel ill-prepared for the unique academic challenges they must face. For the first time in their academic careers, they’ve found mastering their class work hasn’t come easily.
Many college students believe things will only get harder when they return for the second semester. And they don’t know what to do about it. So, they don’t go back after winter break. They drop out and stay home. It doesn’t have to be that way. What’s needed is knowledge – and a hint where to find it.
Students may lack the skills to navigate the college system – especially on large campuses. They do not know how to advocate for themselves, nor how to find what they need to succeed, nor how to get help when they need it.
Throughout their school careers to date there were parents, teachers and counselors leading the way. At college, they feel like they are on their own. Then there are obscure rules, regulations and the barriers erected by the system.
Despite what they think their eyes and ears are telling them, college students aren’t alone. There are resources on-campus and off-campus to help them. But they likely will not be offered in an easy-to-recognize format. Students have to seek them out.
Tips for College Students
• Establish solid relationships with your academic counselor and instructors.
• Schedule a time to meet your counselor, ideally at the start of the year, but as soon as you can.
• Get to know your instructors. Attend office hours to find out what you need to do to succeed.
• Reach out immediately if you feel you are in trouble with a class. Join study groups – in person or online. Get a tutor – many are provided free by your institution.
• College classes move quickly and you need to remedy a situation immediately before it is too late. Talk to your counselor, instructors and parents. They want you to succeed and be happy at school.
Tips for parents:
• Make sure you can have access to their work and grades – and get it on paper.
• Before your child goes to college, or goes back to school, write and sign a contract with your kids that details exactly what you expect from them.
• Sign a waiver with the academic institution providing you access to records for your student. If they are over 18, parents do not have any legal access to grades and other records. You need to get your child to sign a waiver allowing you access.
• Getting passwords to school related sites to check on their progress is key to monitoring progress. When it comes to schoolwork, empirical evidence trumps anecdotal evidence.
• Above all: stay on top and stay involved. Do not let distance be an excuse. Telephone, text, check online or Skype. There is no excuse not to know what and how well your child is doing.
• Talk to your child and more importantly listen – including, often, to what they are not saying.
Don’t be afraid to reexamine the choice of school
• If the fit is not right, make a change. A smaller setting may be ideal for your child.
• It is not a stigma to study for two years at a community college before enrolling in a university or four-year college. The course work and credits carry over to a four-year institution, enabling students and families to save money before moving away. In the State of Michigan, community college class sizes are limited to 36 students. Community colleges offer an incredible value; tuition is a fraction of what it costs at private and larger state institutions.
• Many high school seniors are now taking what the Europeans call a “Gap Year.” After graduating, they take time to do community service, travel to see the world, or work to save money for studies. For these students, the delay in starting school may mean all the difference in their academic careers.
Most of all: Talk!
For parents of college students, take the time to enjoy being with your college student over break. Remember, their being home is an adjustment for both of you. Most of all, have fun and listen and learn what is on your student’s mind. Talking things through, sharing ideas and working together mean the holidays won’t be a make or break time.