How Life Lessons for College Can Make You or Break You

There exists a common myth that our 18 year old young adults are now ADULTS. After all, they can vote, register for the armed forces without parental consent, obtain medical treatment without parental consent and be eligible for jury duty and get married without parental consent. However, those are legal statutes so let’s look at the social and academic areas.

In most cases, our young adults will reach for independence over the course of four to ten years. As they prepare and enter their college years, there is a tremendous amount of pressure building, doubts mixed with some dose of heady excitement and maybe even some pseudo-confidence about taking the steps toward greater independence.

They might ask themselves, alone in the quiet of their mind, the following types of questions:

–am I ready for this experience?
–am I going to the chosen college because my “boyfriend or my best friend is going”?
–can I really do all that is asked of me?
–what if they discover I don’t know as much as everyone (and myself) thinks I know?
–what if I start to party too much and get behind?
–what if I don’t like the classes I’m taking?
–who will help me if (or when) I get stuck?
–what if I don’t like my roommate?
–what if I don’t make friends?
–how will I know who to trust?
–are my parents ready for me to leave?
–will they call me all the time because they are worried?
–and the BIG one: what will I do if I FAIL at something?

To complicate matters, students are coming to this bridge of independence after a long 2-3 year struggle with decisionmaking, unending questions about what they are going to do after they graduate, preparing for PSAT, SAT and/or ACT exams, attending college information meetings, visiting colleges, keeping up their grades and extracurricular activities, financial aid paperwork, essays galore, sending out applications. And all of these often have deadlines — firm deadlines.

Is it any wonder that many of these kids are stressed, overwhelmed and pressured? And, for the most part, many of these high academic achievers and high sports achievers will have the support of family to assist. So, although they may have experienced many of these situations, they may not have managed them solo yet.

Well, let’s see what they’ve learned about life so far:

1. There are many expectations in adulthood.
2. Responsibility is at the helm here – responsible for yourself, your deadlines, and your decisions (both good and bad.)
3. It’s really important to finish what you start and also get it done on time, as promised or expected.
4. It takes a lot of persistence to complete all the paperwork, often from multiple people in the family and school!
5. Sometimes you have to give up what you want to do for what you should or ought to be doing.
6. Life is filled with multi-tasking components and it’s hard to balance it all well.
7. Often we underestimate how much time we’ll really need to complete these demands, which will add to their stress and increase their doubts of competency.
8. It’s really hard to do 100% of what everyone wants you to do. Hence, the need to set priorities!
9. You are going to fall short of the goals at some point. We all do and, frankly, I’d prefer to have a student fall short in high school while they have the support of their parents, their steady friends, and their roster of favorite high school teachers.
10. Finally, in the best of all possible worlds, they have learned how to ask for help when they need it.

Our job as mentors to this next generation is to help them reach their full potential safely. That is not always possible but it is a goal. We must remember that no one comes to the table of their freshman year with all their ducks in a row. College is a learning experience and the curves are rough sometimes, unexpected and fast-paced. It pays to have a trusted guide along the way, someone with whom you can speak frankly, share openly and honestly with, and gain new knowledge through your own mistakes. Hopefully, in the best of all possible worlds, these young people also get to experience their own successes in overcoming difficult odds.

In my private practice work with college students, I provide them with an opportunity to slow it down, prioritize what’s most important to them, identify their goals clearly and remember to keep assessing their progress over time. There is no substitute for time and experience in becoming an adult. The important quality to foster is one of resiliency, that elusive quality that keeps them moving forward in their reach for independence and true adulthood, despite the challenges or failures that we all endure from time to time.