Below adds another perspective on a student’s turn-around in college. I’ve invited the father of one of my students (name withheld) to participate in the Q&A series at College Strategy Blog. He offers a his view on efforts to help a bright student get restarted on their college path. The story about his son underscores both the need for persistence and the effectiveness that distance consultation can have.
1. What happened with your student regarding college?
Our son had been a very good student throughout elementary school and most of high school. He was use to receiving A’s and B’s in his classes and had taken a rigorous college prep schedule of courses in high school that included many honors and AP classes. As parents, we started noticing some changes in his attitudes towards school occurring in his junior and senior years. It seemed like the first issues we encountered were connected with his wanting to quit the soccer team and then the lacrosse team to focus on his studies. But his grades, although still good, actually declined somewhat after he ceased participating in sports. This was our first real clue that all was not well. When the time came to look at colleges, our son was disappointed that he was not going to get accepted in an Ivy league school (his older sister had just graduated from one). None of the other very good schools that were interested in him seemed to get his attention, and he became set on attending one school- a large state university in the Midwest.
Our son was becoming more and more distant and hard to talk to about any subject having to do with school, studies, summer jobs or anything that implicated his future. But he expressed confidence that if we would just leave him alone he would do fine at the state school. Once he went to that college, he never called or invited us to come to the campus, though when we called him he would say that everything was going fine. But his first and second semester grades were C’s and then D’s. We struggled with whether we should support his return there for his sophomore year, but he was insistent that he could turn things around. Then, just as classes were ending in the fall of his sophomore year he came home saying that he had decided to quit school for good.
2. How did you first start working with Jeff? What was that like?
After leaving the state college, he struggled through a succession of low paying jobs. Eventually, he decided he wanted to return to college but found that all of his applications were being rejected. Up to this point, he had refused help from anyone including counseling. Even so, we began searching for the right kind of counselor, somebody our son might respect as having some real understanding for what he was going through. My brother knew Jeff from having done a story about academic counseling for a newspaper. He suggested we give Jeff a call. From my first conversation with Jeff, I realized that he was the person our son needed to see because he had gone through similar issues in college. Although he resisted talking to Jeff at first, when he finally did they seemed to hit it off right away. Jeff helped him prepare a plan to get back to school, helping him decide where he might want to go, and helping him prepare and submit applications. He had a low GPA, but Jeff helped him deal with that. This time, our son was successful in getting several positive responses. We noticed a visible improvement in his attitudes toward things in general as well as towards us.
3. What was the first semester back like?
Our son ’s return to school was a different experience than the first time around. There was a certain amount of nervousness on his part and ours, but at least now we were able to talk about it. We felt more a part of his college experience and he and Jeff were doing a good job keeping us informed on how things were going.
4. How is your student doing now?
Our son finished his first semester with a 3.38 grade average on a 4.0 scale. He’s involved in campus activities and speaks to his professors about his classes. He’s now planning to attend summer classes abroad as part of his international business studies. There are still occasional bumps along the road, but he deals with things better now.
5. Is there any advice that you would give parents who are trying to help their college student get back on track?
Finding someone who can truly reach your son or daughter when they won’t tell you anything is a real challenge. At some point you have to decide whether you need outside help, and if so you owe it to them and to yourself to find a way to get it. Don’t assume your college’s counselors, especially at a big university, can accomplish anything constructive in the process. We found that they don’t even necessarily want to talk to the parents.