What Makes College Work?  Mentors and Problem-Solving Skills for Starters!

This article “How To Get The Most Out of College” by Frank Bruni appeared in the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago.  It is full of important thoughts on what matters in college and is so worth a read. Since students are arriving on campus even as we speak I wanted to highlight just a couple of important points.

Relationships Matter

One of the most important things your student can do while at college is develop relationships with mentors.  There are many potential candidates but the most neglected relationships throughout these four years are often relationships with faculty.  In general, students do not take advantage of the opportunity to form strong relationships with faculty members and this is a huge missed opportunity!  They tend to rely on their friends, and while friendships are important – friends are not mentors. Being a mentor implies more experience, greater perspective and a dose of wisdom.

Of course, not all faculty members are great mentors but most of them genuinely want to get to know their students, to mentor them academically, to open doors for them professionally, and to be of counsel more broadly when appropriate.  But your student needs to make an effort to develop these relationships. They can start by attending class (!), speaking up in class, going to office hours, volunteering to help with research, etc. Out of my graduates who had jobs when they graduated last Spring, or for underclassmen, had internships set up for this summer, over 50% of them were in some manner facilitated by a relationship with a faculty member.  I am full of stories of how these relationships mattered.

Learning to Problem Solve and Ask for Support.

Even the most confident students are going to run into problems.  They can be roommate problems, grades, identity concerns, confusion over majors, mental health issues – the list is long.  Part of what we all want for our students is that they learn to grapple with, and to grow from, these experiences. Having just graduated a college senior, I know how hard it can be to give them the space to figure it out. One of the most valuable things we can do as parents is ask “who is there on campus who can support you with this”.

College campuses are full of resources to support students as they work through issues large and small, but it won’t happen if they don’t know how, or aren’t willing to ask for help. There are RAs in resident halls, TAs in courses, coaches, professors, academic deans, counseling centers, faith leaders, career services, etc. They are all in the business of threading that needle of providing support while helping the student develop problem solving skills.  As parents we can continue to ask “have you spoken to _____ yet? And if the first one they approach isn’t helpful – encourage them to go find the one who will be.

Our Work With Students

When we work with students in our Freshmen program this is what we focus on.  While our work with seniors is all about leaving college with focus and confidence, our work with freshmen is all about connecting in ways that set them up for success. Yes, grades are important, but we know that if they connect on campus, if they use the resources there and learn how to deal with problems early, they are going to emerge with better grades.  That’s why we start here – we want to help them avoid that lost semester that so many of them are talking to us about as juniors and seniors. That one where their GPA took a nosedive, and that they are still trying to recover from.

If you would like to learn more about our programs for college students at all levels please feel free to call or email us for a free consultation at 603-398-7278 or sue@launchingu.com.