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Helping Students With Disabilities and Learning Differences Transition to CollegeSuzanne Shaffer
Parent: “How’s it going in your classes?”
Student: “I HATE MY SCHEDULE! I have 8 a.m. classes, my professors aren’t friendly, and I might not be able to pass my math class. I need to change my schedule!”
This familiar scenario is experienced by thousands of students their first semester in college. In addition to being anxious about leaving home and finding their place in a new environment, they may be unsure about their academic pathway and that can play out in complaints about their course schedule.
It's important to listen to your student's concerns, and parental support is important as they navigate the early weeks of college. But before encouraging them to drop or change a course, direct them to their academic advisor. There are multiple factors to consider and an advisor can help your student identify and resolve them.
Here are a few things to know.
Ask how many credits your student needs to take each semester if they plan to complete their degree in four years (traditional semester plan is eight semesters). Commonly, programs are 120 credits, in which a student takes an average of 15 credits (five classes) each semester.
If a student drops a class, they will need to “make it up” somewhere, usually with a summer course. Your student shouldn't decide whether to drop or not based on this calculation but should be aware of the implications.
Often, after just one or two class meetings, students decide whether or not the professor is “good.” Good may mean friendly, approachable, easy, or knowledgeable.
Ask your student about their professors. What do they like about them? What concerns do they have? Encourage them to develop strong communication and interpersonal skills so that they can get to know their professors and classmates.
This is especially important for students who say they want to change sections so they can take classes with their friends. This is a high-school-level sentiment from which they need to be weaned.
Typically, when a student seeks assistance from an academic advisor, the advisor will present and explore these options with them. If the advisor does not proactively do so, encourage your student to be prepared to ask, “What are my options and what are the implications of each?"
Options may include a referral to tutoring, a writing or math lab, discussion with the professor, study groups, study skills, and counseling. They also may include add/dropping, dropping, or withdrawing. Let me explain the differences.
There are several types of schedule adjustments. Early in the semester, students have the option to adjust their schedule. They should consult their academic advisor before making any changes, as some changes may significantly impact course sequences (ex. ENG 101 is required before ENG 102). Have your student consult the academic calendar to identify deadlines by which to take action.
The first weeks of college are a whirlwind of excitement, fun, and anxiety. Help to serve as the voice of reason (as you have thus far) and work through the issues with your student.
At this point in their transition, it's most helpful to refer them to the campus resources they need. Let them know they have options and encourage them to work through their challenges. They can do this!
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.