How to Help Your College Students Have Positive College Experiences

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I call the period that runs from every September to next May college application season for high school seniors across the country. The 2020/21 college application season is almost over. Now it is time for most high school seniors to weigh the offers and envision the lives they will be living for the next four years.

This is a time of excitement as well as anxieties for both students and their families. As parents of soon-to-be college freshmen, they all want their children to have four successful college years. But, I know that “success” is a highly subjective word. And student’s college experiences may be different due to the kind of colleges or universities they attend.

So, first let us define what success in college means. Success in college, according to many college students themselves, means achieving good grades, graduating on time, maintaining a balanced social life and landing a good job after graduation. On the surface, these goals seem to be simple and easy to achieve, right? In reality, however, there is no small number of students either struggle academically or have a hard time fitting in socially.

After perusing books and articles related to this subject and talking to some parents whose kids have already gone through colleges, I found out some universal traits of college students who have had positive experiences during college.

The first trait of such a student is having definite goals for life. I cannot stress enough of the importance for a college student to have definite goals for his or her life. But, there is a caveat. The goals should be what the students truly want for themselves, not the goals their parents or society set for them. Lucky are those who have concrete goals even before they set foot on college campuses. These students are motivated, self-driven and confident. They will seek and even create the kind of college experiences that help them achieve these goals.  

The second trait of a successful college student is having a good amount of self-control. The majority of high school seniors will leave their childhood homes and live in some kind of campus housing arrangements for the first time. No longer in their lives will there be nagging about eating healthy food and finishing their homework on time. At the same time, they are constantly facing the tasks of making choices: going to parties or working on that course assignment which is due very soon, eating healthy meals or eating whatever they want, and etc. Life is about trade offs. College life is no exception. The students who have successful college lives are those who are able to make good decisions most of the time. Generally speaking, making good decisions need good amounts of self-control.    

The third trait of a successful college student is the possession of good study skills. Academics are a big part of college life. It is hard to believe that a college student is having a positive experience when he or she struggles academically. For students who lack confidence in this skill set, I would like to share with them the formula for academic success outlined in Purdue University’s Guide to Creating a Successful College Experience:

  • Read the syllabus
  • Go to every class
  • Sit near the front in class
  • Find a study partner or group in every class
  • Take good notes.
  • At the beginning of each semester, ask yourself:
    • Do I understand what is expected of me in each class?
    • Do I have contact information for someone in every class to study with or contact in case I’m sick?
  • Manage your time wisely
  • Never let a week go by where you don’t understand the content in your courses
  • If you are confused or lost in a class, visit your professor, go to a help lab or study with a friend. Use your campus resources — they are there to help you
  • Study 2 hours for every hour you are in class

The fourth trait of a successful college student is getting involved in a wide range of activities. We know that college success is more than just good grades. Activities outside classrooms not only enrich students’ lives, they also help students explore their interests, develop social skills and possibly gain life-long friendships. Some of the activities include volunteering, working part-time on campus, getting involved in student’s residence hall, doing internships or studying abroad.

In addition to the above four traits, another factor affecting students’ college experiences is the emotional support or lack of it from their families. College years are coincident with a person’s transition period to adulthood. And this transition period is filled with stresses and struggles. In Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain’s apt named book – “The Stressed Years of Their Lives”, they talked about the mental problems facing today’s college students. Alarmingly, almost one-third of all college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning in the last twelve months according to the authors. Although so called “helicopter parents” are mocked and discouraged, this does not mean that parents can stay out of their college-age children’s lives other than writing tuition checks.

Before parents send off their children to college, they need to be aware of two important laws that could be critical to their children’s well beings. They are HIPAA and FERPA. HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA protects a person’s confidential health information. FERPA stands for the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. FERPA was designed to protect the privacy of educational records and to give students the right to inspect and review their educational records (collegiateparent.com).

In most states 18 is the legal age of majority, which means most college students’ health information and academic records are protected under law and not shared with their parents without the students’ consent. By checking the students’ academic records parents could detect early signs of their children’s mental issues. In order to access their students’ transcripts parents need a consent form to disclosure of FERPA protected academic records. In the age of Covid-19, it is also important for parents to have signed HIPAA waiver and health care proxy from their college-age children in order to make medical decisions on their children’s behalf. If parents need more information on these forms they can contact their financial advisors and/or family attorneys for help.

Looking back, 2020/21 college application process is quite a journey for both high school seniors and their families amid a global pandemic. As the high school seniors are about to open a new chapter of their lives, I wish them all successes in college.