As 2013 comes to a close, many of us are thinking about the New Year: our goals, our resolutions, the ways in which we plan do better this time around. Whether we want to finally lose those 20lbs., follow through on career ambitions, or simply take the time to enjoy more of life and those we love- this is the moment when we take a moment, ask ourselves what we really want in life, and re-commit to doing our best to achieve it. The students who will walk into my office this January are almost guaranteed to be in this same mindset, for they will be those who, for one reason or another (or for multiple reasons) had a bad fall semester and are looking to turn it around.
Over my years as a success coach, I have learned to expect 5 things from this crop of second semester students:
1. Most of them will be freshmen:
The vast majority of my new, spring semester students are freshmen who were not a part of the success coach program during the fall. This is partially good news, since it means that most of our students who struggle to GET their acts together during freshman year subsequently KEEP said acts together. However, I hate to see any of our students begin college with the kind of high school transcript which precludes mandatory participation in the success coach program only to falter on the first few miles of the marathon.
2. These freshmen will be surprised that college has not turned out to be like high school:
Of all the facial expressions I see when students come in for their first meeting with me, one of the most common is bewildered. “I don’t get it! What did I do?” is a common sentiment. These students used their high school experience to set expectations for college-level work and life, and then were genuinely surprised and confused when expectations did not match reality. Many of these students did quite well in high schools which turned out to be less rigorous than these students had any reason to think they were. Others simply did not foresee that there would be a significant jump in the level of time and effort that the average college course takes in relation to its high school counterpart.
3. They will have procrastinated because they could:
Last January, I began to work with a student who had failed two classes his fall semester, one because he didn’t turn in a single assignment on time and the other because he hadn’t turned in any assignments at all by the time that final exams rolled around. That’s an extreme example, of course, but it is indicative of a larger problem with first semester freshmen: they procrastinate because for the first time in their lives…they can. “That paper isn’t due for three weeks, but this hangout in the room of some people I’d like to get to know better is happening RIGHT NOW!” “I know I need to take an all-important final in a month, but this nap is really calling my name right now.” We can all relate, but for college freshmen, it’s a learning curve that is steeper for some than for others.
4. They will be stressed out and terrified when they walk in the door:
The easiest part about coaching second semester freshmen is that they’ve already been scared straight. For those who come to me the first time in the fall, everything is hypothetical- this could happen to you. For those who come to me in January, it has happened. They have “failed” almost immediately, and they’re freaking out about it. Thankfully, I often find these students more energized than demoralized by the struggles of their first semester. They can’t believe they are in the hole they are in, but instead of resigning themselves to an underground existence, they want desperately to climb out of the hole.
I believe that one of the most important things you can do as a success coach dealing with a student who has faltered is to impress upon him or her the truth that one setback does not a failure make. With my students, I ask them to think of or research five successful people who experienced major setbacks on their path to success. The discovery? Nearly EVERY successful person has experienced a setback on his or her way to success! Edison had hundreds of failed experiments on his way to inventing the light bulb. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. Athletes overcome months-long injuries and authors overcome years-long writer’s block. The take away, therefore, is that each student’s current trials can be overcome. For a student looking toward the New Year with a sense of renewed determination mixed with trepidation, it’s a very important message.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.