Wednesday, October 16, 2013

That’s Why it’s Called College Counseling

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Part of the goal in every aspect of counseling is to help students cope with a difficult situation by understanding more about themselves and their ability to manage the dilemma.  More often than not, this work requires the student to see more of their capabilities, and to accept the importance of being patient with their growth in those capabilities. Great athletes don’t come out of the womb and slam dunk a basketball or knock a baseball 400 feet; the same is true for fully-realized individuals who start their own companies, raise healthy children, or live meaningful lives. Many will get to the top of their game, but that usually takes time, patience, and a great deal of practice.

That’s why college application deadlines can seem like such an adversary.  How can a student be required to apply to a college by a certain date when one more month of Algebra or one more semester of growth could dramatically change their grades, their outlook on life, or the quality of recommendations they receive from their teachers?  What does a student do as deadlines approach if the college of their dreams may not fit in with the plans for their life? What does a student do who has spent three years with college as their goal when their parents tell them the finances just aren’t there, and the student will have to take a full time job just to make ends meet at home.

This challenge might seem unique to college counseling, but how many of our students come to us with problems they see as other-centered, when the real solution lies in a change of the perception or behavior of the student?

“Now that my best friend and I have had a fight, I just have to get out of the class we have together.”

“I want to come to school on time, but my mom wakes me up late.”

“My grades would be better if I could study at my house, but it’s just too noisy there.”

These issues may seem to deal with a change in behavior (sit somewhere else in the room, buy an alarm clock, study at the library), but that change only occurs once the student realizes they have the power to do something about a situation they now see as out of their control. Once they know they really can do something to better themselves, it’s only a matter of time and desire to realize the change—and that puts them back in the center of their own universe.

That’s true for getting up in the morning, but is it really true for college deadlines? 

“If only I had more time to get my grades up.”

“Let’s look at some colleges that will look at your senior year grades as part of your application.”

“I can’t decide which school to apply to early.”

“Maybe we should talk about applying to meet the later application deadline.”

“Mom and Dad say I have to work for a year before I can go to school.”

“There are many colleges that will admit you now and let you take a year off.  Let’s look at those.”

At this busy time of year, it’s easy for our students to see no answers at all, and it’s easy for us to forget we have the answers that can liberate their perspective and widen their view of what’s possible.  We can’t change deadlines, but we can help students understand how to respond to those deadlines in ways that can change their entire views of themselves, their potential, and their futures.

1 comment:

  1. Great point! I find as a counselor I get caught up in the students' and parents' anxieties at the height of the season, and always realize after the conversation that I make better decisions, and advise them better, if I can stay calm and even a little detached.