Friday, May 4, 2012

K is for Kids

In the last post, we discussed less than sympathetic employers and how you had to safeguard your academic goals. Today, we talk about the people you can't quit, your family.

If you are the first person in your family to attend college or university, you may run into a common problem. When you were in high school, you had a nice, easy schedule that was, well, consistent. Monday through Friday, you went to school in the morning, took the same classes day after day, and arrived home some time in the afternoon. You may or may not have homework or studying to do outside of class. In college, you may have the bulk of your classes on two or three days. You may have different schedules each of those days. There is little or no time to work on projects, and no study time, so you may have a little or a lot, but you do have outside work.

Unfortunately, it can be hard for someone who hasn't experienced this  to understand why you have less free time than you can show on paper. I ran in to this as a student.

My parents: "So, what's your schedule?" (I'd give them the paperwork.) "OK, you're off on Thursday afternoons. You can get your brother from school."

Me: "No. I have to study."

My parents: "What do you mean? You don't have class! Why must you be..."

And so it would go. What I had to do is sit down and explain my work load (both school and job), and we put together a family schedule for the semester. It took a while, but it did make life much easier when they knew what I could do, and I knew what they wanted and needed.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

J is for Jobs

If only we were all born rich instead of beautiful! Unfortunately, many of us have to work if we want to stay in school. And so begins the problem.

We get a job to help pay for tuition, books, transportation to and from class, and all the extras, but jobs can start to take over our lives. It can start out slowly: The hours that manageable start to get longer. In the beginning, it's not too bad. The holidays or a special event is coming up, so the money is welcome. A few hours turn in to a few more.

Soon, it gets harder to keep up with schoolwork. A missed paper here, a poor test grade there, and the promising semester is turning into a nightmare. Maybe a semester off to regroup is in order. Soon, a semester turns in to a year, which turns in to several years. Time and money wasted, with no degree to show for it.

So what do we do? The key is getting a little defensive when it comes to our boundaries.  Remember when we discussed Goals? Your goal probably didn't involve delivering pizza for the rest of your life, but things have a way of leading us down a slippery slope. You want to pay attention and stop the slide early. Talking to your employer before the school year starts is vital. If you make your needs clear at the start, it will be easier to keep a balance between your boss's needs and yours (this goes for friends, family, and boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, too, but we'll talk about them later).

Now, you may have an employer who is about as understanding as a brick. For such people, sympathy is only found in the dictionary. At this point, you have to make a choice: Stay or Go. If you stay, be aware that you will have little-to-no time cushion in regards to getting class assignments done. If you go, unless you have another job lined up, you may have to make cuts in your budget. Talking to financial aid is helpful here, as you may be eligible for on-campus employment. On the bright side, as bleak as the current job market is, there are signs of improvement, so while your Plan B may not be a dream job, it could provide the right mix of schedule and funds to help you stay on track to achieve your goals.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I is for Incomplete

It happens. Illness, finances, all sorts of things (both good and bad) can happen, and they tend to occur when we have the least time or resources to deal with them.

So let's say you're in college and your parents announce that because of a big promotion, you are all moving across state. Now. In the middle of the semester.

What can you do?

This actually happened to a student of mine. Fortunately, we were able to work out an arrangement where he stayed at a friend's house a few nights a week, allowing him to attend class once a week, and keeping up with the rest of the classes via e-mail.

Many times, unfortunately, the circumstances aren't that fortunate and the solutions aren't that neat and clean.  Job loss, poor health and family issues are common reasons why students have to withdraw from classes. The problem is that unless you drop the class at the start of the term, you rarely get your money back, your grades can suffer, and at the very least, you have to spend your time and money to retake the class.

What can you do?

As I've noted in other posts, there are options. The first step is to talk to your professor. Explain the situation as soon as you can. Ask what the options are. If it's not an ongoing issue, can extra time or an assignment modification be given? If you do have to drop the class, talk to the bursar's office. In certain circumstances (medical, etc), refunds past deadline can be given. The financial aid office can give you information on how a withdrawal will affect your account.

The important thing is to be proactive. If you go back after the semester and the grades are issued, you will have a lot fewer options than if you had let people know what was going on earlier in the semester. I hope nothing that affects you like this happens, but if it does, don't wait to get the help you need.

H is for Help

As you may have noticed, this is a blog about navigating the sometimes intimidating landscape that is college life. The good news is that you aren't the first to have what ever issues you are or could be facing. More good news is that you have people ready and willing to help you get past the rough spots.

A few years ago, one of my students told me "You professors are nice enough, but you just don't care about me." I explained to her that it wasn't true. While there will always be that one professor who may in it for the wrong reasons, we teach because we love our subject and want to share that knowledge and all the good things it brings with you. We may hold you to a high standard, but we are trying to build you up in to something better than you are today. A common first day activity in my freshman seminar classes is to give the students a list of activities (I have lived overseas, etc) and ask other classmates to indicate if they had done these things. I find it to be a good way to help everyone to tell a little about themselves as opposed to going around the room with the usual "tell the class one thing about yourself."

Another important lesson is that you get what you need by getting out of your seat and asking for it. I remind my students that unlike, high school, no one is going to micromanage them. We won't call the house and ask where they've been, we won't send emails to remind them of assignments, but we will help them if they need it. Some of the helpful people on campus include:

Librarians: These people are your absolute best friends when it comes to research. They know where all the good stuff is, where to find it, and how to cite it.

Counselors:  Maybe you don't know what major is best for you. Maybe you don't know how to deal with a situation at home. These people are great to talk to. If they can't help you, they will get you to the best place. They, like your professors, are also held to the same level of confidentiality as doctors and lawyers (by federal law in the US), so you can talk to them knowing your business won't be broadcast all over.

Professors: Have a question about an assignment? Need more information about a major or industry? Ask your professor. We love talking shop. The important thing is to catch us during office hours (or make an appointment), so we can give you full attention (before and after class is popular, but tough for us as we're usually rushing on to the next class). Also, questions about homework are best asked prior to the due date. "I don't understand this" in an email the night before does not count. It also takes away options I would have had to help you if you had just contacted me sooner.

There are lots of other helpful places and people, but you have to take the first step.  Good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

G is for Goals

We hear a lot about goals. They should have deadlines. They should be worded as positives. The list goes on and on.  Why are goals so important?
I like to think of goals as long-range signposts. It is easy to get caught up in day-to-day nonsense and frustrations. Between school demands, family needs and work responsibilities, it’s hard to remember why we put ourselves through the wringer that is college. That’s where the goals come in.  If you know from the start that you enrolled into college to get that degree that will let you do the things you love and get the results you desire, it will be a lot easier for you to get through the temporary pains of sleepless nights studying and writing up assignments.  Here are a few points for you to keep in mind:
* Even if you have already started school, it’s not too late to get clear on your goals. As a matter of fact, I like to revisit my goals to see if they are still what I truly want.  As we learn, grow and get older, it is normal for our priorities to change.
* Remember the difference between goals and values. Goals are things we achieve. Values are our core beliefs that guide us. If my values include the importance of service to others, my goals can include getting a job that allows me to help the under-privileged, for example.
* Take your time in working out exactly what you want, and why. While it is true that your list of goals will be a living document, and subject to change, you still want to be sure that you accurately and clearly explain what you want to do (goals) and why (values).
* The values component is important! As we go through life, different opportunities and challenges will present themselves. If you are clear on why you want to achieve your goals,  you will be better able to take advantage of new conditions without compromising what is important to you.
* Most importantly, your goals should be what YOU want, not your family, friends, teachers, or anyone else. As important as these people are to you, they cannot live your life. Only you can, so do the things that make you happy. They may not be thrilled in the moment, but you have to life your own life.
We’ll get back to this in future posts, but in the meantime, consider the words of Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.” So, look inside yourself, if you want to know why and how.

Friday, April 13, 2012

F is for Failure

It's going to happen.

If you push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you are willing to put yourself out there, you will eventually fail. It may be minor. It may be epic, but it's failure.

That is good news.  Why? Well, being perfect all the time isn't a reasonable goal. If it's a challenge, you will only set yourself up for anguish and frustration. If it's easy, than why do it? I play rugby. I don't play it well, but I have fun, go places I never would have been to otherwise, and meet new people. A veteran national team player passed along some advice that got her to the World Cup.

Get in there, and if you're going to mess up, make it huge.

Many times, playing safe will cause more problems and lead to more regret than going at it 100%. This is not the same as being foolish. Taking a challenging class can be gutsy. Do-it-yourself bungee jumping is stupid.

It's OK of you aren't spot on all the time.  Learn from what went right and what went wrong and go on from there. I'm going to end this with another quote, this one from Tony Robbins:

Live life fully while you're here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird. Go out and screw up! You're going to anyway, so you might as well enjoy the process. Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes: find the cause of your problem and eliminate it. Don't try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human.

So go out there and and be human!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

E is for Effort

If there's one thing that I hear over and over from my students it is this: "Oh, my professor didn't give me extra time. I just got a zero. It wasn't like that in high school."  Now, I'm certainly not beating up on high school teachers. They have a hard job and have to deal with a lot of things I don't have to, but I cannot tell my students enough times that from here on out, either you get things done or you don't. People will help you, but they will not micro-manage you. It's not that we don't care; we simply don't have time.

The key is effort. A friend of mine told me this on the day he graduated medical school: "A monkey can get a medical degree, but he has to be a very determined monkey." This isn't to say that doctors (or any other professional) don't have to be smart, but someone of average intelligence who consistently puts in effort will go farther than the genius who sits back and does nothing.

Keep working. Keep trying. Show me where you got stuck, and I'll help you.  Not even trying and throwing up your hands at the first sign of trouble will get you nowhere.