Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
Can We Help Our College Students Be More Empathetic?Marybeth Bock, MPH
I'm in my senior year of college, and it's not what I expected.
This year is not what a lot of people expected. No one planned to spend multiple semesters attending class on Zoom, balancing responsibilities from home and wearing a mask to hang out with friends.
Next month, I will finish my degree. Spring semester is a time full of unknowns for me, and that's a concern many seniors usually face. But I'm not worried yet because I have so much to do right now.
My final semester is the busiest one I've had at university — and I was an RA for two years! I'm taking 19 credits (three of which are overloaded), including two philosophy classes, two law classes and two internships. I'm TA-ing for two courses, working in the residence life offices, and putting together a research presentation with a professor.
The classes and internships are necessary for me to graduate by the end of the semester, half a year early — something I chose to do to save money. The other responsibilities I took on for enjoyment or a new challenge.
If anything, my senior year has been filled with more courage and perseverance than I anticipated. Many of my former senior friends resonated with "senioritis," where you lose all motivation for homework and just want to do fun things. I felt that in my senior year of high school, but it hasn't gotten to me this fall in large part because I can't lose my motivation. I have to push through the work and let the sweet thought of winter break be my encouragement.
I think a lot of students realized early on how intense this year was going to be: extra assignments for online classes, numerous video calls every day, no typical breaks in the semester. Within the first month, I accepted the fact that I was going to be busy — really busy — and that's proven true so far.
I found peace in relating to other professors' and students' busyness, though. We're all in the same boat, and it's comforting to know that I'm not the only one.
I'm not the only student balancing more than they can handle; I'm not the only student who is stressed and considering counseling; I'm not the only senior beginning to worry about my future but not knowing where to start because there's so much going on in the present.
So, I want to encourage the students (and parents of students) who feel where I'm at.
I've shared this with a lot of RA's at my school who are feeling burnt out right now. College is tough normally, and COVID-19 precautions are another layer of stress and concern on top of that.
But if your student takes the semester day by day, it feels more manageable. Encourage your student to choose the three main tasks they're going to complete each day. They don't have to do everything, just enough to keep them on track and healthy.
If your student is any bit like me, the first things to go when they feel stressed are healthy eating and sleeping. Remind them that, even though they have a lot to balance, they need to prioritize themselves. Encourage them to take a full day of rest each week (though that's easier said than done) or at least a few hours each night to relax and not work.
If your student expected to have a fun, carefree senior year but is overwhelmed with assignments, help them plan something to look forward to. Maybe they're coming home for Thanksgiving, and you make a deal that they can't do any homework on Thanksgiving day or over the holiday weekend. Maybe they're finishing their degree at the end of fall semester, like me, and you help them organize a road trip or "staycation" of fun activities to celebrate.
I know breaks are sparse and work is plentiful. I also know that both your student and myself will make it through the term. We may come out with some bumps and bruises, but adversity makes us stronger.