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Staying on Track During Another Pandemic Semester, Part 3: Focus Forward

Vicki Nelson

This is the third in a 3-article series about staying motivated and productive during what we all hope is the final lap of remote pandemic learning. This is an ideal time for parents and students to think about how they will stay focused during this spring semester. Click to read Part 1, "Focus on Moving Ahead" and Part 2, "Focus on Connection and Engagement."

As the sun stays with us for just a minute or so longer each day, many of us are becoming impatient for spring. We know we need to wait, but it’s hard.

Students, too, are impatient. This spring semester means more remote learning, masks, distancing, hybrid and hyflex classes for some, and restricted activities. They know they need to wait, but it’s hard.

It’s difficult to reframe challenges as opportunities when we still face an uncertain future, but now is the time for us to help our students make that mind shift. We can help them determine how to use this time to prepare for their “post-pandemic” life — to focus forward and plan for the future.

Find Your WHY

Writer Simon Sinek describes a person's WHY as the “purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us.” Sinek goes on to explain its importance in his own life. “Not only did discovering my WHY renew my passion, it gave me a filter to make better decisions.”

For many of us, finding our WHY may take a lifetime. Don’t expect your student to find and define their WHY right now but encourage them to begin the process. Our current socially distanced life may provide an ideal time for your student to envision the future they want when this is over.

We all want some basic things: the chance to gather with friends and family, to be back in the classroom, to go to restaurants, concerts, sporting and social events. Encourage your student to think beyond these basics and consider the bigger vision they have for their future. This can become like a compass (again, according to Simon Sinek) giving them a sense of where they are going.

Helping your student begin to find a sense of purpose can help them move from feeling stuck in this pandemic life to feeling productive and forward moving. They can rediscover what it's like to have momentum. They can work to become “future ready.”

Take Steps to Move Forward

Once your student begins to have a sense of where they want to go, it’s time to take steps to move closer to that future they’d like to have.

The specific actions your student chooses will depend on whether they are in their freshman, sophomore, junior or senior year, and it will depend on their ultimate goal.

You may need to help your student define some actionable steps and create their personal strategic plan. Here are a few suggestions to help you and your student get started.

  • Prioritize your physical and mental health. Make sure you’ll be ready to move ahead when the time comes. Eat, sleep and exercise well.
  • Focus first on what’s working — personally and in the world around you. What have you learned from this time that you want to carry forward with you?
  • Evaluate to make sure you are on track to graduate. Check to see whether your major has a degree map. Look at or request your degree audit. Take stock of what you need to do to stay on track.
  • Meet with your advisor to look at future semesters. Do you know the sequence of courses you need to take? Will they all be available when you need them?
  • Ask for a Zoom meeting with professors in your major. Ask them what you should know or do to get ahead in your chosen field.
  • Use this time to find and apply for scholarships. There are many available for upper class students. Check for specific ones in your major or field of study.
  • Throw yourself into learning about your career options. Spread a wide net. One major may lead to many different careers.
  • Join a professional association related to your potential career. Use your membership to gather information, network with professionals in the field, find career information and openings, look for scholarships, and attend virtual conferences.
  • Conduct informational interviews with working professionals in your field to learn more about what they do.
  • Create or update your LinkedIn profile. Use it to network and connect with others.
  • Refine your resume and cover letter.
  • Work on your marketable skills. Find job openings in your field and learn what skills they require.
  • Investigate internship options. There may be fewer available right now, but once things open up, be ready with your information and connections.
  • Seek out a mentor and establish a good working relationship.
  • Use the services of the Career Office at your school and attend virtual career fairs.
  • Make a list of all of the fun things you can’t wait to do once this is over!

Encourage your student to keep moving.

Even if it is only one baby step at a time.

Remind them to keep their eye on the future, on where they want to be.

Remind them that the countless small decisions and actions they do every day can keep them moving forward.

Remind them that they will be stronger, and wiser, once this is over.

Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate who spoke so eloquently at the presidential inauguration, says in her poem, "The Miracle of Morning,"

When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing
In testing times, we became the best of beings.
Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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