Many parents feel that there is little hope of their student making a turn-around in college. While I try to communicate that there can be, I think that readers need to hear it from more individuals than myself. I’ve invited “Betsy,” a mother from Indiana who I’ve worked with, to participate in the Q&A series at College Strategy Blog to help show that a student can turn-around and resume their college path. Her story about her son also underscores that, with the right format, distance consultation can be very effective.
Also, a companion post is another Q&A that brings a father’s perspective on a student turn-around in college.
1. What happened with your student regarding college?
Our son was a good student in high school and had little difficulty making decent grades in honors and AP even though he had poor study habits and below average organizational skills. After being accepted into several good small private universities he chose to attend our extremely large state university. Our fears about him being lost in the system were realized as he floundered academically because he lacked motivation to attend classes as he felt he was studying material that he had already covered in high school. In addition, his lack of maturity did not allow him to realize the impact his actions could have on his future. He actually had classes that he had “failed” due to attendance policies yet had an A or B on the final exam. While one could quibble with this kind of policy, the fact remains that the professors and university were clear about it. Unfortunately, the size of the university and the privacy policies are such that we received no communication about problems until it was too late. After a period of academic probation he was dismissed from the university. As parents, we felt that we had failed our son because we had a gut feeling that a large university venue was not right for him but allowed our son to make the decision anyway. Our son seemed to want to distance himself from us emotionally and was very defensive and guarded about his life at school. We had huge regrets about not being more confrontational concerning our lack of information. After his dismissal he was understandably depressed and felt he had ruined his life.
2. How did you first start working with Jeff? What was that like?
In the period before we met Jeff we did a few things to try to rebuild a “resume” for our son for re-entrance into school. We allowed him to volunteer for some academic experiences overseas, and he was “promoted” in his duties while there which bolstered his confidence. Later he enrolled in intensive language study, then worked for a while at a retail job. Quite possibly the exposure to hard, back breaking work was an experience which aided in my son realizing that he did not want to take this path, but he still seemed unable to formulate a plan to reenter school. As his parents, we were not really sure how to go about it either, which added to our frustration.
We heard about Jeff through my brother in law who had interviewed Jeff as part of an article he wrote. We talked to Jeff and immediately felt at ease with him. He told us that our son was not alone in his behavior and attitude but also gave us a sense of hope that the situation could be remediated. To say our son was resistant to talk to Jeff is an understatement, but in one of the few times we actually issued an ultimatum, he reluctantly agreed. In spite of this, Jeff connected with our son immediately and successfully worked with our son to do all the things necessary for a successful college reentry. One particular difficulty was his being accepted at a new college after he was dismissed from his prior school, and Jeff helped him find ways to work around that. Our son was accepted into a small university with a good reputation for professor involvement.
3. What was the first semester back like?
The first semester that our son was back at school was a totally different experience than the previous ones. Jeff was in constant contact with our son and we received updates regularly about the progress. Moreover, we felt as if we had our son back! He started communicating about his classes and activities and even would ask advice regarding ideas for papers! The contact between our son and Jeff and Jeff and us gave us the reassurance we needed that things were going as they should be.
4. How is your student doing now?
Our son is now toward the end of his second semester at the new school and he has a B+ average in his two majors. He has greater confidence in his abilities and has recognized his weaknesses and makes efforts to address them. Most important to us, though, is the sense we get that he is much happier. Our personal relationship has improved immensely.
5. Is there any advice that you would give parents who are trying to help their college student get back on track?
Go with your gut feelings about the situation and don’t be afraid to force your child out of their “comfort zone.” At the “moment of truth” for us before our son talked to Jeff we were dealing with strong feelings of hostility and resistance. Don’t be afraid to risk that your child will have extremely negative feelings toward you because these will likely be temporary.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national level Higher Education Consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s worked with students and parents across the U.S. about college issues since 2001, and is a member of CSRDE that focuses on best practices in helping students. He is also a member of NACADA, the national college advising association in the U.S. Please see the program page for services Jeff offers.