In my last blog, I wrote about what students say about the first year of college based on the themes that I have discovered in their written responses over my past four years at a university.  These themes–seven in total–have come from careful reading of assignments that ask students to reflect on what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing their first semesters in college.

In this blog, I share the remaining three themes with the same purpose in mind: The more you and your student can prepare for the transition to college, and, consequently, the more you can have an open dialogue about these themes, the more likely that transition will be successful–for your student and you!

#5 Asking for help. Young adults, who arguably may need more help than any of us when they experience a life transition, do not like to ask for help. This is particularly challenging for faculty and staff–like me–who encourage new students to seek help through our tutoring or peer coaching services.

Why do they struggle with asking for help? There are a variety of reasons that students do not ask for help. One reason, they tell me, is that they take their emerging independence seriously. They say that they want to handle problems on their own first before seeking help.

What can you do to help with encouraging help-seeking behaviors? You can coach your student to learn where help is located on campus and to determine when to use the services. A student who is having a relationship issue may not realize that counseling is available through the health center. Role playing how to ask for help and how to describe a need are two ways that you can support your student’s comfort with reaching out when needed.

# 6 Financial issues. The financial issues that college students face are multi-faceted, but first-year students worry about money. Whether it is the cost of tuition, textbooks, or meal plans. Students are faced with increased expenses and they struggle with how to juggle it all.

Why do financial issues concern them? For the most part, it is personal finance, and not college costs, that concerns them the most. They either are worried about working or worried about not working. In other words, if they are working, they worry about making enough money to cover their expenses without encroaching on their academics; if they are not working, they worry about affording future–or unexpected–expenses. Either way, money is on their minds.

What can you do to help them with financial issues? Talking about what you expect in terms of their financial contributions is key. You will also want to regularly check in with them to see how things are going. In some cases, they may have needlessly worried; in others, they may have encountered a financial issue they had not anticipated. Remind them, too, to check with offices on campus that provide financial aid information and campus employment–they may have additional resources for students.

#7 Purpose-driven. This is perhaps my favorite theme as it encompasses the hope and optimism of young adults. They are driven by a desire to fulfill a purpose in their studies and their careers.

Why are the purpose driven? This article explains some of the reasons, but most researchers point to the parents, ahem, as well as the economy as reasons for their desire to be driven by motivations other than financial security. Whatever the reason, it is important to acknowledge that they may use other criteria than what we used to make decisions about college majors and career pathways.

What can you do to help them capitalize on their desire to live a purpose-driven life? Talking about their purpose is a start. They may want to share with you their motivation to help others and what fields they see themselves working in. If they don’t yet know what their college major or career path will be, you may want to encourage them to explore their interests, values, and skills through a career services office.

Knowing what your student will face is a great way to offer needed guidance, coaching, and support. Use these themes as topics for conversation.

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