With the biggest travel days of the year approaching, and (gasp!) the holidays soon upon us, we caught up with Neumont’s Student Affairs leadership to chat a little bit about students being home for break and some signs for parents and caregivers to look for to make sure their student is on the road to success.
Erin McCormack is Dean of Students for Neumont University and Corrine Padilla is Neumont University’s Student Life Coordinator & Housing Program Manager.
NU: What are some easy ways to find out how your student is doing?
EM: Ask them. But if you ask vague and open-ended questions, you’re going to get vague and open-ended answers.
CP: Exactly. Parents should ask specific questions: In what areas are you excelling? Where are you struggling? What skills do you need to learn to be more successful? What time do you get to sleep? What kinds of resources are available to you? For example, is there tutoring and are you using it?
EM: I think if there’s a lack of accountability by the student, that’s a sign that something is wrong – always blaming the teacher or if the student seems really angry about what’s going on at school. Students who own their missteps are in a great position. If we caused something and we know it, we can change it going forward, which creates a sense of control. Those who blame others feel they are always at other people’s mercy which creates a sense of helplessness that is counterproductive.
NU: How about outside the classroom; are there external factors that can showcase how a student is adjusting?
EM: We’ve seen that a student’s peer group can have a tremendous impact on their success. It seems that an entire group often sinks or swims together. Some groups compete to push each other in their success at school. They get their work done, and then reward themselves with gaming after their assignments are complete. The opposite approach, just getting together to game, makes it hard to succeed.
CP: Ask your student about what they’re doing to fill their time, about their roommates, and if they’re getting along with them – about food, who’s buying and who’s cleaning. What is the division of power and what do those responsibilities look like? Students who are struggling to create a harmonious relationship with roommates are often distracted and overwhelmed. Fixing these issues allows them to focus on school.
EM: Specific questions: "Did you miss any classes? Did you miss any assignments? Why? What are you going to do to prevent missed classes and assignments going forward?"
CP: Ask: “What are some of your favorite activities?” Ask about the types of meals they’re eating and what types of meals they prepare.
NU: Speaking of food, should parents worry about the clichéd Freshman 15 in their student?
EM: What we see a lot more frequently than weight gain is students who are struggling with weight loss – they’re failing to eat or just prepare meals at all.
CP: Extreme weight loss or gain – either end of the spectrum is usually a warning sign that something is not right.
NU: So what are some of the other warning signs to look for as signals that a student may be struggling?
EM: If they come home and are playing 15 hours of video games a day while on vacation, you can bet they’re having a similar experience at school.
CP: Sleep schedules are key – if they’re keeping extremely late hours or unnatural sleep schedules on break, it’s an easy insight into what’s happening on campus.
EM: When I see students in The Commons at 8 a.m. over break, I can tell it’s a student that’s going to succeed. If they’ve got the discipline to be up and active on break, I know they’ll go far. They don't have to be up at eight necessarily, but those who sleep until the afternoon on breaks return to school facing a serious battle with getting up on time for class.
NU: We talked about weight loss and gain. What about other noticeable signs appearance-wise to look for?
CP: Any dramatic change in appearance is a red-flag.
EM: A couple of piercings and dyed hair are a pretty normal college change. Ten piercings? That’s dramatic and is cause for you to explore what's happening with your student.
NU: Additional concerns?
CP: It’s ok to ask to see their grades. Some students will push back saying they’re going to continue to do things on their own, and they should be respected for that. But hiding grades, being angry or skeptical, is not ok.
EM: There’s a delicate balance for parents between being too involved and not at all. There’s overbearing and then there’s oblivious – neither are helpful. Students whose parents are actively involved in their transition to college are more successful. Additionally, college is an expensive investment, and parents have a right to know how their investment is doing.
NU: That’s a good point. You wouldn’t turn over $75,000 of your retirement fund and never check to see how it was doing or where the money was going.
EM: But check in on them as an adult – not just a student. That’s such a big part of what happens here. Students are here for academics, but must simultaneously learn to be adults: manage their time, get to class, choose homework over video games, get along with roommates, buy groceries, budget their money, clean their apartment, cook, and so on. It’s important to check and see how they are doing with these tasks. Failure in any one of these areas can sabotage school success. Ultimately, parents should trust their gut. If you think something is amiss, something is probably amiss.
CP: You know your student best.
[This interview has been edited for content and clarity.]