There comes a time in all students' college application process when they realize that things are about to get real. Really real.
After years of planning and preparation, they are going to college. And for various reasons, I have witnessed students engaging in the act of self-sabotage. An important housing form forgets to get submitted, a security deposit is "erroneously" not paid, a final transcript requested forgets to get turned in and it doesn't get sent, or they know in their gut this is the wrong decision (kind of like the bride running from the altar?).
Why would someone self-sabotage at such a critical juncture in his or her process? As a parent or friend you might find this infuriating or puzzling. The gears are in motion, the proverbial light is at the end of the tunnel. The would-be students are about to embark on their next level of greatness. As exciting as this may sound, to many, it can be terrifying. Achieving goals can sometimes paralyze a person. The fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of expectations, the fear of disappointment to those relying on you (for example, the first generation students who are paving the path for future generations everyone is looking to them to carry the torch). Or, the students are second-guessing themselves and are afraid they have chosen the wrong path.
I have experienced over the years several of my students self-sabotaging, so, if you see your student starting to slip, here is my advice:
1. Let your student know that the feelings he or she is experiencing are NORMAL. Everyone has self-doubt, but not everyone knows that failure means another chance at success. How many of us have failed at some time in our lives? A career? A marriage? A friendship? A class in school? It happens. That's LIFE. Failure makes us resilient!
2. Your student-child is not you. Comfort your student rather than pushing him or her to meet your expectations. I know this is easy to say and incredibly challenging to practice. I'm a parent. I get it. I want my kids to have a better life than I have. But I (we) need to step back and let our kids choose their own adventures. Even if we don't agree with their choices (caveat: if their path is becoming self-destructive, of course intervene!). Just be there for them when or if they fall. All kids want love and support.
3. Focus on the positives! Encourage all students to focus on what is exciting about these next steps in their life. Remind them that college, first and foremost is a place to learn, is also a place to discover and have fun.
4. This advice is for the students who are first-generation. There is an added pressure to succeed in college. A lot of people are looking to you to guide and inspire them. That is a lot of pressure! Statistically, more first-generation students drop out of college after their first year than non-first-generation students. So clearly this is a problem. My advice don't worry about what others think. Yes, there are a lot of people following your every move, but they are because you are in their eyes an agent of change. Instead of finding this stressful (again, easier said than done), use this as a tool to stay motivated. Find your support groups on campus. Know your academic limits. Don't take too large a class load until you know you can manage the work. And, most importantly, remember that you can do this. Never give up!
I hope that parents never have to worry about these situations but in the event that any of you do, I encourage you to be present in your student's needs. Work as a team and you can get through this kind of stress successfully. The pay-off in the end is worth it.