Beacon College

What Really Happens on College Campuses?

Jan 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Admissions, Articles, Blog, College, college for homeschoolers, Uncategorized

Early preparation equals success

By Carolyn Croom Baker, Achievement Works.com

Jessica’s graduation party was like many May – June events. She was heading off to her dream college with a merit scholarship. There were congratulatory cards and commendations for a job well done. Her college educated parents thought they had done all the right things. They had shepherded her through high school AP courses, extra-curricular awards, international study programs, and college enrichment since eighth grade. Everyone expected a college success story.

Freshman year was a challenge for Jess. She didn’t quite adjust to the campus culture, climate, or academic expectations. She made a few new friends, but not like those back home. Although she was 900 miles away, no one worried about distance, since she had spent two high school summers studying abroad. Sophomore classes were more challenging still. Navigating campus social life was something for which she had no experience. Her mom had always helped with social questions. Jess called home daily. She was slipping slowly.

Junior year started and Jess fell further away from her goals. By Thanksgiving, she was facing a major meltdown. Jessica crashed. Who knew? Who could have predicted it? She was the golden girl that everyone expected to be a star, but Jessica was depressed. Her doctors recommended medication, withdrawal from school, and a semester of rest at home. Her shocked parents agreed.

The National Institute of Mental Health informs us that rates of depression on college campuses are escalating rapidly. It is estimated that one out of every four students is taking some form of anti-depressant; some campuses report one out of every three. High numbers of students arrive at college on medication and many more start after freshman year. A NIMH nationwide survey found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function.

How can this be? College campuses are more beautiful than ever. Some resemble vacation resorts. There are myriad amenities to make students happy, pamper them, and relax them. There are cutting-edge  research facilities, residence halls designed to comfort, and hard-working student activity planners charged with keeping students engaged and entertained. There are support services and study groups to meet almost any need and yet, for too many, that’s not enough. There are also new freedoms and independence. The transition from high school student to college freshman is not as easy as it might seem.

Dining room tables across America are command centers for families strategizing for college admissions, college choice, and scholarship search. For high school seniors, this is crunch time, while sophomores and juniors sort through an avalanche of college marketing materials. All of the brochures look idyllic. Pictures of beautiful libraries, happy faces, joyful social gatherings, sporting events, stimulating classes, and blissful bonding in cozy residence halls are featured in all. There are articles about campus diversity, interesting international students, prized internships, study abroad, brilliant research by even more brilliant professors, and handsome young people preparing to bring their special gifts into the world. For many, the beautiful brochures represent future realities. For others, the college experience can be a frightening one in ways few parents would ever imagine.

How can parents prepare students for a smooth transition to college life? Two strategies can make a real difference. First, start slowly treating your high school student like the successful adult you hope he or  she will become. Give them responsibilities to complete without your input.

Talk to him/her about the complexities of adult social interactions, especially male-female relationships. Find mentors for your children. Most colleges have special weekends for high school juniors so they can attend classes, experience the campus, and spend a night or two in a residence hall. This helps students determine if the college is a good match.

Second, help your child answer the following questions in the most honest way possible. What kind of personal environment is essential to happiness? What is the optimum distance from home? What activities provide personal joy? What about college size — large, medium, or small? What special programs or supports will be needed? What kind of people add joy to the day? How important is a spiritual practice? What about self-advocacy skills? How strong are they? If that muscle is a little weak, think of ways to strengthen it.

Lifestyle questions are also important. Just think. Colleges, like people, have varied personalities. Although class offerings and instructional quality are important, campus culture is equally important to your child’s success. Don’t assume other college students share your family’s values. Are theme-oriented, single-sex, or coed residence halls more desirable? How much independence is enough and how much is too much? Is guidance desired for spiritual development or is a hands-off approach better? Is quiet time refreshing or boring?

Frankly discuss the answers and consider them, while reviewing college brochures and visiting campuses. Realize that campus tour guides and admissions officers highlight the campus’ award-winning aspects without mentioning the pitfalls. So, when touring, try to seek out other students and inquire about their experiences. The goal is to choose a college where your child will thrive, grow personally and academically, mature, then graduate feeling the time was well spent. Please visit www.achievementworks.com for more information. ?

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