“I know I should go talk to him,” a student said a few weeks ago when she asked my advice about emailing a professor because she was having difficulty in his class. “But I am so tired of ‘adulting’ this week. I have had to be an adult too much already,” she said.
We both laughed a bit at her statement before getting back to the task at hand: figuring out what she should do about a class that she was failing. However, her comment reminded me of the fact that my students–first-years and some second-years–have trouble with making the transition from high school kid to college student, emerging adult.
For many, the change takes more than the three months from high school graduation to first-year matriculation. In fact, it can take at least a year for new college students to get the hang of the basics of adulthood. That is why starting this conversation and developing these skills as early as possible is crucial to building a foundation of college success for your student.
Here is a list of the top 5 skills they need to develop to make college a little easier. Trust me, the more that you can get your student to do, the better we all are for it:
#1 Taking care of self. This means all those tasks that make most people human: keeping the body and clothes relatively clean, eating regularly and healthfully, sleeping regularly, and managing negative effects of stress. Before you laugh too hard by this list–because it seems the antithesis of a “normal” college student–consider that there are more and more students who do not recognize the need to maintain some sort of self-care nor do they realize the cumulative effects of not taking care of basic needs. Often, it is too late into the semester before students realize that they have not been good stewards of their minds and bodies. Getting your student to realize and practice these skills are vital to their long-term health and happiness at college.
#2 Managing time, tasks, and priorities. This is another one of these skills that can make or break a student. Your student should be tracking assignments and obligations in some sort of planner–paper, electronic, or whiteboard with marker. Your student should also be reviewing that tracking and making adjustments throughout the term. What happens to students who struggle at managing their time and tasks and those who have difficulty prioritizing? They often leave studying and school work to the last minute, which can spell disaster.
#3 Solving problems and managing conflict. This adulting skill takes a little more time and experience to develop, but your student has to do it on his own. We can help by avoiding jumping in at the first sign of distress. Your student is struggling in a class? Let him take the appropriate steps to get back on track. For sure, you can and should provide advice about the steps to react like an adult, but resist the temptation to “get to the bottom of this” on your own, especially if the conflict or problem is a common one.
#4 Asking for help. I am not contradicting myself with this skill after describing how your student needs to learn how to manage conflict and solve problems on their own. I swear! There is a balance between doing everything for yourself and doing nothing for yourself. The trick is determining when help is needed. I often tell students that when it comes to the common experiences of college–choosing a major, dealing with faculty and roommates, and figuring out assignments–it is always a good idea to reach out for assistance if they are not sure what to do. Academic advisors, Resident Assistants, and tutors are professional helpers on college campuses and there are often equivalent helpers in high school. Getting students used to reaching out when they do need help is sometimes hard, but your student will come to realize that no one succeeds in college without some help.
#5 Maintaining a positive outlook. When the chips are down, when the day is just not going your student’s way, keeping a chin up or keeping the issue in perspective can go a long way in helping your student cope with life’s troubles. This is not to say that your student should not feel disappointed or angry ever. Instead, it is a reminder that learning how to cope with setbacks and challenges, to see the opportunities to learn more or do better next time, is an essential adult skill.
This list of skills is not exhaustive, but it is a good start. How can you facilitate the building of these adulting skills? Make them goals for your student to work toward with each school term. We college professors and administrators (and definitely high school teachers and staff) will thank you and they will (eventually) thank you.