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5 Mid-Semester Dilemmas You Probably Don't Know Your Student Is Facing!


Dr. Joel Ingersoll

President, Take On College

· College,High School,career success

At the semester mid-point, college students can face tough decisions!

Every fall and spring, college kids eagerly anticipate Halloween, Oktoberfest, March Madness, and Spring Break. But for many students, these approaching good times are overshadowed by the looming possibility of poor mid-term academic performance. By now they've taken rounds of exams, completed some papers, and prepped for midterms -- and haven't done as well as they'd hoped. Their anxiety rises to new levels with awareness of the scholastic danger they face if they don't quickly turn things around!


In fact, by mid-terms, many students believe that it's too late to improve their grades before semester's end. They've already formed conclusions like these:

"I've missed too many classes to pass."

"The professor sucks," or, "The professor is out to get me."

"I'm depressed, and can't study."

"I'm exhausted from staying up all night to complete papers."

"I've been partying too much."

With these perspectives, students head into the second half of the semester with increased stress and anxiety. They feel challenged to make tough, make-or-break decisions. Some seek help or advice from campus resources, but many avoid discussing their concerns altogether.

My job as an advisor, and yours as a parent, is to help our students choose the best problem-solving approaches to the dilemmas facing them -- thereby developing critical personal and professional success skills, and helping them end the semester (or year) on a high note.

A dilemma is defined as a problem with two equally unattractive solutions, and to a student with distorted perspectives, any solution can appear undesirable. These are the most common dilemmas I hear about, during mid-terms, from students who've fallen short of their (or their parents') expectations. After each, I've highlighted the appropriate personal and professional development skills we’d emphasize to resolve the dilemma -- and about which I'm creating online videos for you to view:

1. Self-sabotage or self-care?

Prioritizing physical and psychological self-care in the midst of stress is essential to performance success and wellness. But an increase in stress is usually connected to a decrease in self-care, creating a negative feedback loop. Excuses for cutting back on self-care, like "not enough time", sound logical even if the student already knows about the benefits of good self-care. Trips to the gym and yoga classes get de-prioritized, while poor sleeping habits and alcohol/other drug use increase. This dilemma highlights the importance of personal responsibility for one's well-being.

Personal & Professional Development Skills: Stress Management, Time Management, Lifestyle Design

2. Drop out or hang in?

The possibility of failing a class triggers a list of drastic choices, with immediate stress relief the primary goal. During mid-terms, dropping or withdrawing from classes or taking a MLOA (Medical Leave of Absence) are compelling options to students in academic trouble. But when students focus on quick-relief solutions, they miss a lot of potential personal growth. Perspectives like, "What's the point?" or "It won't help" are common when students face the prospect of poor grades, but there is long-term benefit to being proactive and brainstorming options with parents, a coach, a professor -- even if the student intends to drop a class. This dilemma gives students a chance to practice asking for help, and communicating to instructors that they care about the class and their education.


Personal & Professional Development Skills: Problem Solving, Effective Communication, Resilience

3. Hide the grades or tell Mom & Dad?

Dr. Joel: "So when are you planning to tell your parents?"

Student: "I don't know, probably after my grades come out."

I've counseled thousands of students on this dilemma. Waiting to inform parents is a choice they often make to band-aid anxiety, thinking that delay will minimize the risk of parental criticism or the threat of being pulled out of school. But postponing the inevitable merely prolongs anxiety for weeks, and does little to mitigate their parents’ reactions – which run the gamut from concern about their child's psychological status to fear of unidentified academic challenges to anger about missing a tuition refund deadline! This dilemma offers students a chance to increase awareness of their own range of feelings and reactions, and of the impact of their choices on others. It also provides opportunities to practice honest communication.

Personal & Professional Development Skills: Effective Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy

4. Avoidance or leaning in?

Like many who make New Year’s resolutions, students who promise to make changes over winter or summer break often fall back into old habits and behaviors. This perfectly natural behavioral slide can generate feelings of frustration and a self-critical sense of failure, which in turn motivates students to drop the change behavior and avoid confronting the challenge. One college student recently told me that, after his 4th absence from a class, he doesn't plan on attending class anymore. "What's the point? The teacher already thinks I'm an idiot," he reasoned. This dilemma is good for learning to be comfortable with discomfort, and to practice leaning into/resuming challenges after falling short or even backsliding a little.


Personal & Professional Development Skills: Coping Confidence, Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation

5. Going it alone or collaborating with parents and others?

The college experience contains infinite opportunities for personal and professional development. Learning to recognize them, and the benefits of prioritizing personal growth, are essential to college success and career readiness. But students often fail to recognize these possibilities in the bustle of college life, and need the guidance of parents or coaches who've walked that road before them.

Feeling pressure to appear mature and responsible, they may never reach out for help. So it's often up to us. Ask about your child what they see as their academic and well-being challenges this semester. Be thoughtful in choosing your moment to speak about it. A compassionate, caring manner will often start productive conversations that your student was reluctant to initiate. It's in these intimate talks that they may share stressors they usually hide.

Personal & Professional Development Skills: Self-Awareness, Collaboration, Emotional Intelligence, Effective Communication

For 5 Minutes Live videos about how to help your student resolve each of these dilemmas, and other college-related challenges, click on the button below. Also, watch my video on managing anxiety:

Dr. Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D., CMC helps college and high school students develop college and career success skills. As President & Founder of Take On College, Dr. Joel has empowered thousands of students to maximize their potential, college experience and return on tuition. Dr. Joel is the author of the forthcoming book Take On College: Winning Strategies for College & Career Success! Sign up for helpful tips, articles, & resources!

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