Mental health concerns continue to be on the rise. This is not breaking news, and it’s not a trend. It’s a beating drum in higher education (and K-12) that continues to beat louder daily.
It’s a drum beat that we can no longer tune out, especially when it comes to college admissions and the overall well-being of emerging adults.
The question, “How do we know if a student is college-ready?” has been asked for decades. There is research on academic readiness, social/emotional readiness, and college readiness surveys. Higher education professionals are now dealing with a population of young people who really struggled to get across the high school finish line. It’s anecdotal, but we see it everywhere. Whether it was a lack of motivation with online learning, depression due to isolation from peers, or grief related to canceled or altered end-of-high-school experiences, all of this combined has each of us wondering: how do we truly know if our students are going to thrive on campus?
So how do you know?
- Do you have each of your students fill out Landmark’s College Survey?
- Do you share with your students a list of “Top 20 Things” they must master before going to college?
- Do you encourage all of your student’s parents to take a First-Time-College-Parents Summer Boot Camp or share resources?
- Do you confront families if the student’s mental health concerns (from your perspective) will impact their academic success, and you encourage them to defer and seek therapeutic or gap programs?
It’s not so simple. We really can’t predict whether or not a student will be successful on campus. On the other hand, colleges know statistically who’s most at risk of dropping out and target that group heavily through retention efforts. The problem is, if your students don’t fall into one of the university’s at-risk populations, they will be overlooked. Moving forward, every student needs to be more closely monitored when they transition to college.
What makes us question a student’s readiness?
1. Academic Wellness: As professionals, we talk about what a student needs to do to succeed until we’re blue in the face. Unless they make the changes themselves and see the benefit, it will be a hard lesson learned. What is needed? Reading and studying outside of the classroom, connecting with tutors, writing center services, and study groups early on in the semester, connecting with the professor proactively during office hours, and treating college like it’s a full-time job. If students aren’t thinking about this on the first day, they tend not to realize how far behind they are until their first exams come in sometime in September or October. The cognitive dissonance of their academic reality is a forecast to being on academic probation after their first semester.
2. Emotional Wellness: Mental health was top-of-mind (no pun intended) before COVID-19 shut down high schools and colleges as we knew them back in March 2020. Now, over a year later, mental health and well-being are even more of a priority. The pandemic experience has included isolation, lack of motivation, and an extreme sense of driftlessness. If a student isn’t connected to some mental health professional—whether on or off-campus—we need to encourage them to do so. Students should speak with someone sooner rather than later if there are mental health concerns!
3. Financial Wellness: Often, parents overlook the importance of financial literacy for their college-bound students. If they are encouraged to get a part-time job or work-study, basic money management skills are imperative. They need to know about minimum balances and overdraft fees.
4. Intellectual Wellness: A lot of students find themselves having adjustment issues in this area of wellness. They go into college believing they can create, analyze, critique, evaluate, and debate on classroom topics only to find themselves hosting an internal dialogue that screams imposter syndrome. Without a solid internal dialogue with resilient self-confidence, they can quickly second-guess whether or not they are college material.
5. Social Wellness: What can predict a student’s success is their ability to make a friend. Did they have friends in high school? If not, why not? Because of the pandemic, so many young people have experienced social isolation, and as a result, finding community and connection is even more paramount to their development. If they don’t know how to put themselves out there, if they aren’t comfortable with trying to make friends, and if their only go-to is to text their parents—it’s time to ring the warning bells. If a student can’t find “their people” when they’re in college, they will be the ones calling home with homesickness by week two and withdrawing by the end of the first month.
Tips for IECs to Give to Parents
- If your student’s parents are concerned about whether or not they will be successful in college, have a serious sit-down and normalize that it’s okay to take a break. If the student needs to work, travel, or see a therapist for a bit to get their light back, encourage the parents to support this. College will be there when they’re ready (and excited) to enroll!
- Use the summer as a platform to fast-track non-academic college readiness skills. Most of this includes basic adulting skills.
- Collaborate! If you aren’t clinically trained and question whether one of your students needs to seek mental health support or consider a deferral to take a gap year instead, find someone locally or a national expert that you trust, and directly introduce your students and parents to them. This support can help a family feel at ease for going to school or rerouting the postsecondary path. Again, college isn’t going anywhere!
- Ensure that each student you work with, whether it be first-year or transfer, and their parents put together an off-campus mental health support network before the start of the semester. Even if they don’t think they need it now, tell them you’re encouraging all of your students and that it’s viewed as “proactive post-pandemic self-care!” This group could include individual therapy, group therapy, psychiatry, and/or a college success coach.
- If accommodations are needed, ensure that the student is enrolled with disability services before the semester begins. Ensure that the student is paired with an academic coach if this will be helpful to their success.
By Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC, IECA (CO) and Adrienne N. Frumberg, MA, IECA (NJ)
Joanna Lilley, Lilley Consulting, can be reached at [email protected]
Adrienne N. Frumberg, Lighthouse Guidance, can be reached at [email protected]