College Students

July 30, 2014

It’s not long before college students will start heading back to their campuses. For freshmen, whether they are going close to home or further afield, it is the beginning of new freedoms, new friends, a new era in their lives. While most incoming freshmen have already figured out what they plan to pack and their class schedule, there are some things for which they may not be prepared—things that can throw them offer and hamper their ability to succeed at college. Although, as Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? advises, all college preparations and discussions should be attended to long in advance of dropping a student off at the dorm. However, here are a few last minute things to think about:

1. Be prepared to feel some loneliness and/or awkwardness despite being in a dorm full of students. Most students do not know their roommates, so it helps to have contacted that person before moving in. An initial telephone conversation can lessen the awkwardness of moving into a small space with someone you don’t know. Recognize that all roommates don’t hit it off, but do your best to make the situation as positive as possible and stick it out. Remember, there is no rule that you have to hang out with your roommate. Also, loneliness and homesickness are normal; it takes time to make friends. Take heart in knowing that college buddies can turn into lifelong friends.

2. Plot a path from the dorm to your class buildings before the first day of class. Whether you will hoof it, ride a bike, or use a skateboard, make note of how long it takes to get to each class.

3. Mark the last drop/add date on your calendar. After that first week of class, it is common to drop or add a class for a variety of reasons. Understand that the final drop/add date is not negotiable. If you’ve already bought books for a class you end up dropping, be sure you know how and where to exchange or sell back the books.

4. Within the first week of class, figure out the best place and means of studying. The dorm room is rarely a good study location. The library is ideal, but can get crowded. Consider forming study groups early in the semester—such groups are a great help not only in studying for exams, but in providing notes in case you miss a class.

5. Take note of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ contact information and office hours. Do not be afraid to seek out your teachers when you have questions. Introducing yourself to your teachers is always a benefit to the student.

6. Find out where the campus medical center is and understand how to use it. Parents and students also should visit the closest hospital and make preparations for parents to be listed as persons to whom medical information can be released. If an emergency arises, such a release becomes critical, particular if the student is a long way from home.

7. Remember that a successful college experience hinges on a student’s ability to manage time and priorities. Go to every class, participate in campus activities, study hard, go out for pizza now and then, pay attention to deadlines and requirements, explore recreational opportunities that the area affords, broaden your outlook, and have fun!

Note: Please check out the new second edition, e-book version of Toward College Success: Is Your Student Ready, Willing, and Able? Visit your favorite e-book vendor or go to “Buy the Book” on this website for links. And please—let me know what you think by leaving a review. Thanks!

March 21, 2014

While giving a presentation a few weeks ago to a local school, I was introduced to a fine program offered by Colorado State University. The Dream Project is a “student-initiated, student-run high school outreach program that focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship.” CSU students give their time and energy to helping first generation and low-income high school students figure out the right-fit college, maneuver the college application process, and successfully make it to higher education.

After I had finished my presentation, a group of energetic CSU Dream Project members explained the program and encouraged high school students to contact them if they had questions. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to help was inspiring, and the Dream Project appears to be a great resource for local high school students.

In its second year, CSU’s Dream Project is closely modeled on the University of Washington’s program, embracing the same mission, values, goals, and name as UW’s Dream Project. CSU’s Dream Project not only offers high school students college application assistance that they may not have at home, but it teaches “CSU students about educational opportunity and social mobility and examines these ideas in the context of Colorado State University.” CSU Dream Project students attend a class that meets twice a week—“once as an entire class as part of the CSU course and once with their smaller group at their assigned high school to work with the students. Since the Dream Project is a CSU course as well as an outreach program, participating students can receive up to two credits per quarter.”

In Fort Collins, Dream Project members have a presence at two area high schools, but they encourage students from any high school to contact them. They begin working with students in the junior year to point them toward courses they should take, encourage them to get involved in community service, research colleges, prepare for the SAT and/or ACT, and help them start scholarship searches. In the senior year, Project members help students through the application process, including getting letters of recommendation, writing entrance essays, and filling out financial aid forms. In addition, Project members will take high school students around the CSU campus to give them a feel for college life, and they hold social events to build community.

Because the CSU Dream Project is relatively new, it is still building its program, but one goal is to offer scholarships in the future. UW’s Dream Project offers small scholarships from monies raised entirely by UW students.

The Dream Project model appears to be a win-win program for both high school and college students. So far, the model has been adopted only by CSU and Rutgers University—I do hope other universities will join in to promote this program of students helping students.

To read more about CSU’s Dream Project, go to:

For UW’s, go to:

Feb. 5, 2014

With the debate ongoing as to whether or not a college education is worth the expense, there appears to be a predominant opinion that students should major in engineering, business, science, or technology fields as opposed to any liberal arts field. The theory is that a liberal arts major is not marketable and offers little in return for the investment, regardless of whether or not the student is successful in his coursework.

A recently published report, “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment: A Report on Earnings and Long-Term Career Path,” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, discredits the notion that a liberal arts degree is worthless. The report includes data on “earnings, employment rates, graduate school earnings bumps, and commonly chosen professions” that shows such a degree is actually a good investment.

Authors Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly point out that we need workers in social science, public service, and teaching fields that, although they do not pay as well as engineering positions, they do pay decent, living wages.

The report states: “There is a much larger case—beyond the purely vocational or economic case—to be made for study in the humanities and social sciences, of course. These fields build the capacity to understand our collective histories, ideals, aspirations, and social systems. They are indispensable to the vitality of our democracy and to the future of global understanding, engagement, and community.”

In addition, the authors make the case that employers are looking for more than just a degree in a certain field. They are looking for individuals who are innovative, who engage in cultural diversity, and who can adapt and integrate across several fields and tasks. Liberal arts majors usually take a more varied and broad course load than those majoring in specific hard sciences or technology fields.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states that many employers are looking only for the degree itself as an indication of basic skill and maturity. “Even students majoring in areas such as the social sciences or humanities, which many consider employment wastelands, actually tend to do quite well in the labor market. For example, as reported in The College Majors Handbook: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 60 College Majors, social science majors with a bachelor’s degree registered a labor force participation rate of 84.1 percent, and those in the humanities registered a rate of 77.5 percent. In humanities, students earning a master’s degree increased that rate significantly to 83.3 percent.”

And not only that, not every college student wants to become an engineer or business executive; rather, she wants to further her education and pursue her particular dream. The student who is motivated by his studies and determined to move forward with his life, is the student who is ultimately successful regardless of his college major.

To read more about the study, go to

Oct. 17, 2013

As any parent of teenagers know, teens struggle to wake up early and then they come alive as nighttime deepens. When my kids were in high school, I was frustrated over how early they had to be at school when I knew all they would do in that 7:45 first-period class was nod off. Really—what teen can fully grasp algebraic equations or effectively discuss “Macbeth” at 7:45 a.m.?

The reality of a later awake/sleep cycle is obvious when college students choose their classes. Eight o’clock classes are the last to fill—the slots all students avoid if possible. And they avoid those 8 a.m. classes because they know they will be more successful in their studies if they are alert while in class. Why hasn’t that idea trickled down to the high school level?

I discovered that the idea is trickling down, and in fact, an entire organization is devoted to making it the norm. Start School Later (SSL) “is a coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity.”


SSL works to educate officials and the public about the “physical, psychological, and educational well-being” of teenagers as related to teen sleeping cycles. The group also helps communities make start time changes in their schools. SSL’s website is full of information explaining the physiological reasons that support later school start times for teens. Many parents may already be aware of the biology involved, but even more parents simply know it because they see it in practice. Our elementary kids are early-to-bed, early-to-rise with no problem—let them start at 7:30 or earlier—but high school students do much better if classes start no earlier than 9 a.m.


SSL’s website lists several success stories of schools that have improved test scores, attendance, and attentiveness by delaying start times. The primary excuses I have heard for not delaying high school start times is disruption to bus schedules and after-school activities, particularly sports. While I understand that bus and sport schedules will take time, effort, and probably money to rearrange, apparently it is working and working well in many school districts across the country.


Fortunately students have much more choice once they head off to college. One of my son’s knew his sleeping cycle was so critical to his success at college that he refused to take any classes that began before 11 a.m. Of course, that is not always possible, particularly as a student advances in college, but in those first couple of college years, it can make a huge difference just as it can in high school.


Take at look at SSL’s website,, to learn more about the need for later school starts and to read about schools that have successfully implemented those late starts.

Sept. 25, 2013

My son’s accident has given me another great topic to discuss: the importance of getting to know your professors while in college.

My son is home in Colorado recuperating from a broken leg he sustained while riding his bike home from class at the University of Hawaii where he was doing a “semester abroad.” His injury prevented him from continuing with classes either in Hawaii or at Colorado State University, where he has been a student most of his college career. Stuck at home until he can get around on his own, he fretted a bit over what to do to keep busy. He decided to contact his geology professors, let them know what happened to him, and ask if there was anything he could do to keep up his skills.

He was rewarded with several offers from his various professors—offers to help with different research projects and offers to be a teaching assistant in a class he has already taken as well as helping to grade papers. Some of the offers include payment; some are volunteer positions. And some told him he could continue next semester when he is back in class and earn some college credit.

None of this would have happened if he had not made himself known to his professors during previous semesters. In Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I quote a college student who said assertiveness is important to a successful college experience. He said he advises other students to seek out their professors either after a class or during office hours to try and form a relationship with them. “It helps,” he said, “for the professor to actually know your name among a class of three hundred. You become more than just the kid in the blue hat. It also helps to have someone to ask for letters of recommendation later on.”

Toward College Success also makes this point from the professor’s view. In another story, one student out of a class of 95 introduced himself to his professor just to say he was enjoying the class and wanted to learn more about the subject. Even after the class was over, the student continued to drop by to talk to the professor, discuss an issue, and ask advice. As that student’s senior year was winding down, the same professor asked the student if he would be interested in a master’s program internship. The student jumped at the opportunity and went even further, eventually earning a Ph.D. The professor commented: “They (professors) can help you with your career, but you (the student) have to make the move to say hello.”

Being assertive and self-advocating are not skills that all teenagers just happen to have. Such abilities, like so many other important life skills, need to be taught, developed, and nurtured while that teenager is still living at home. If you have a teenager who is uncomfortable around adults she doesn’t know, create opportunities for her to talk with adults whom you know will be patient, kind, and engage her in real conversation. When your teenager has a problem with a teacher, insist he make an appointment to discuss his concerns. If he refuses, set an appointment yourself, but let your student do the talking. As your child ages, let them make their own doctor and dentist appointments and let them handle their schedules, conflicts, and priorities.

These are just a few ideas to give your teenager the opportunity to learn assertiveness and self-advocacy. Remember that once she is at college, she will have to ask questions and open doors for herself. In the end, it can help make her college experience lucrative, paying off in significant help toward her career.

Aug. 30, 2013

One of the points I make in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, is that some parents don’t realize that once their teenagers reach the age of 18 they are protected under privacy laws. What that means is that parents cannot call their student’s college and request information about grades, discipline issues, or even tuition payments without the student’s consent. The same is true for medical issues. If your student ends up in the hospital, the hospital cannot release information without your student’s consent. If your student is unconscious, that could be a problem.

This issue was brought home to close family friends a couple of days ago. Their son just started his freshman year at a school that is about an eight-hour drive from the family home. Their son, riding his long board, collided with a bicycle and made a face plant onto concrete, breaking his nose and suffering a severe concussion. He did not go to the hospital right away, but called home to tell his mom that he was nauseous and feeling dizzy. Similar to a story in Toward College Success, this young man needed some direction during his time of difficulty. Mom told him to go to the hospital, where the concussion was diagnosed, but because the family had not gone previously to the local hospital and signed a release for the parents to receive information, my friends had to wait until hospital staff obtained that consent from their son. Luckily, he was coherent enough to do so.

In the meantime, the doctor ordered “brain rest”—no reading, studying, or anything strenuous for two weeks. The young man is an engineer major and missing two weeks of school could be difficult to manage. My friends drove out, picked up their son, and will decide over the long Labor Day weekend as to whether he should continue the semester.

The issue of giving access to parents hit me directly just yesterday. My son, Wes, flew to Honolulu to start his “semester abroad” at the University of Hawaii. He is a senior geology major and he is already excited about his volcanology and geology of Hawaii classes. In two weeks, he has fallen in love with hiking around the island, cliff jumping, and surfing.

Yesterday, he was biking home from class when he made a blind left turn and was struck by a car. He suffered a serious compound fracture to his leg, but miraculously no head or internal injuries. The only reason I knew about it immediately was because a man at the scene of the accident got my phone number from Wes and called me. The man gave me the name of the hospital and I was connected with the ER’s social worker. She was very helpful, and lucky for me, like my friend’s son, Wes was coherent enough to give his consent for release of his information. I had not followed my own advice to obtain a consent form in advance.

The hospital staff was very helpful and tried to relieve my anxiety, for which I am grateful because it was over 12 hours before I got to talk to Wes for the first time. He had surgery last night and I am scrambling to get a flight to Honolulu. Today I will call the university to ask about transportation services for students with mobility difficulty, and I will call his department to talk about the feasibility of his continuing in classes that have at least six field trips scheduled. If he does have to pull out of school, it will delay his graduation next May.

The message here is to check with the local hospital and find out how to obtain a consent form before an accident occurs. If my son, or my friend’s son, had been unconscious, there is no telling how long it would have taken to get information on their conditions. It is a worry and concern that can be avoided if parents insist on that consent in advance.

Aug. 21. 2013

The ACT makers announced today that the average composite score on its 2013college-entrance exam is the lowest it’s been in eight years. Apparently, since 2006, the composite score has hovered at 21.1 (out of a possible 36) until this year when it dropped to 20.9. In addition, only 39 percent of 2013 ACT test takers met three or more of the college-readiness benchmarks in English, math, and science. Does that mean a lot of high school graduates are not college ready?

I don’t think the composite scores mean that, but I do think a high percentage of high school graduates are not college ready. In an Education Week article, writer Caralee Adams presented the discussion of what these lower scores mean. In one reader comment following her article, a commenter summed up something I believe. He wrote: “It’s not about so-called academic readiness; it’s about maturity and being personally responsible.”

While I believe academic readiness is definitely an important part of college readiness, I definitely agree that maturity and personal responsibility play a huge role in college success. That, of course, is the whole premise of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able. As I’ve said before, a 4.0 GPA does not ensure college success, nor does high test scores.  If a student cannot manage her time and priorities, cannot handle conflict, cannot manage her finances, cannot self-advocate, then that student is going to have a tough time succeeding in college.

While parents of high school juniors and seniors fret over upcoming college-entrance exams, they should remember their part in being sure their teenager is college ready. It is up to parents to teach the life skills that all teenagers will need to solve problems, make adjustments, and move toward accomplishment once those teenagers head out into the world—whether it is to college, work, military, or whatever. If parents see that their teenager has not honed needed life skills, then parents need to encourage their teenager to take some gap time and undertake meaningful occupation to help grow those skills. College will be there when that student is finally ready, willing, and able to succeed.

To read the article:

Aug. 13, 2013

“School is boring.” How many times have you heard that from your teenager? Yet, if we are honest, we’d say, “Yeah, it is some of the time.” While it is important to engage students and employ strategies that make learning relevant, it also is important that teenagers learn that they won’t be entertained all through life. Much of the time, we simply have to buckle down and persevere whether it is in high school, college, at work, or even with chores at home.

A recent commentary by Mark Bauerlein on discussed this very real issue. Bauerlein referred to The High School Survey of Student Engagement from 2010 that showed just as many teenagers complained of being bored with school (66 percent) as they did in the 2006 survey. The primary reason for boredom: “uninteresting and irrelevant material.”

Bauerlein goes on to say that the recommendations to remedy this boredom sound quite sensible. “The curriculum and teaching styles must change, researchers say. We need energetic instructors to present pertinent material in lively ways. Teachers should draw more assignments from real-world situations and create projects that are collaborative by nature, or culturally relevant (for example, by providing an Afro-centric curriculum to African-American students). If students recognize direct connections between schoolwork and their personal lives, including their future employment, academic engagement will rise, and they’ll stay in school and proceed to college and the workplace ready to thrive.”


But Bauerlein goes on to ask an important question. Even if curriculum and teaching do manage to transform mandatory material into engaging, exciting, and relevant lessons, what happens when those energized students head off to college? Bauerlein says they will end up right where they were prior to the changes—with boring lectures, note taking, and studying. That is because a lot of college—particularly the required introductory classes—often are lectures, note taking, and studying. On top of that, introductory classes often are huge—as many as 500 students sitting in a cavernous lecture hall squinting at the professor (or teaching assistant) somewhere way down in front. Not very engaging.


What happens is that many students drop out of college because they are bored. “A 2009 study by Public Agenda found that 45 percent of recent college dropouts listed boredom as a ‘major’ or ‘minor’ reason they left, while 43 percent cited, “I had to take too many classes that I didn’t think were useful’.” I deduce that students need more than just new, engaging curriculum. They also need to understand the realities of life. School, work, and certainly household chores are not engaging and seemingly relevant all of the time. We have to take the boring and mundane with the exciting; take the lessons and tasks that just have to be learned and done with the ones that are engaging and relevant.


As I point out in Toward College Success, parents need to give teenagers graduated responsibility for their lives—and that includes the boring parts. Attitude, persistence, the ability to find relevance, determination and much more are attributes that lead to success in college and beyond. Maybe it’s time to embrace a little boredom.


To read Bauerlein’s article:




July 17, 2013

I wrote a column for my local paper about the benefits and the obstacles of participating in a student exchange program or study abroad. Study abroad does offer opportunity for travel and cultural enrichment, and it broadens global and self perspective. It also tests a student’s maturity, tenacity, and resilience—all traits that enhance success in college and beyond. I am a big proponent of study abroad, but caution is needed. A student may be gung-ho over the idea, but the reality of living in a foreign country with different cultural cues, expectations, and environment can derail the experience. It also can be derailed by a student unwilling to adapt to whatever situation is presented to them.

 In 2011, Allison Hodgkins, Resident Director of the CIEE Study Center in Amman, Jordan (CIEE is a non-profit, non-governmental international student exchange organization), wrote a guest post for me about the frustrations she faces with students who come with the wrong attitude. I thought it was worth sharing again in its entirety.  

 From Allison Hodgkins:

 If I could sum up the biggest deficiency that I see with this generation of US undergraduates it would be, “a lack of independent strategies for handling adverse situations.” It never ceases to amaze me when a student who has laid out a detailed plan for using their study abroad experience as a spring-board to a high-level career in government service or international development uses the emergency phone line to ask me to address cockroaches in their bathroom (an extreme example, but true). What’s worse, is when a student’s encounters with the routine discomforts of life in a developing country results in a polite, but firm email or phone call from Mommy or Daddy directing me to address the problem and report back when their child’s comfort level is restored. Excuse me, but isn’t study abroad fundamentally about getting outside the comfort zone?

 Unfortunately, this generation of university students has been coached from a very early age to rely on the intervention of their parents and educators to clear obstacles from their path and to demand facilitation of their expected (or even required) level of success. Thus, when presented with a situation where such resources are unavailable all too many simply flounder.

 Although I see this in just about every aspect of my work with students, one of the most acute examples is with internships. We offer for-credit internships for students on our programs. The objective is to match them with organizations in Jordan working in the fields that students are the most interested in, such as human rights, economic development, community empowerment, etc. Students leap at this opportunity, but inevitably fail to grasp their role in maximizing it. First, during the application process they focus less on demonstrating what skills they could offer an organization and more on securing the type of organization that suits their aspirations. “I see myself working with refugees…” Ok, what skills do you have that could be used by this organization? “My passion is for refugees….” But when the actual work involves uploading information on refugees into a database, the devastated intern comes back to my office lamenting how they are not being “challenged” or having an opportunity “to use their skills with refugees.” They generally do not appreciate my blunt assessment that as a 21 year old, upper middle class American with four semesters of college-level Arabic and basic coursework in international relations, they really don’t have the skills or experience needed by refugees.

 A student this term exemplified this. She wanted to work with refugees or human rights and actually had some relevant, short term experience with Catholic Relief Services and some legal aid projects. We offered her an internship with Penal Reform International, a local branch working on advocacy for female and child prisoners in Jordan and the region. They really needed help with grant writing and research. Very small, grass roots—rubber meets the road. She balked—too much office work, not enough exposure to the “field.” So we got her another lead with international relief and development working with a community-based organization needing support with an educational enrichment program in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Her response: too much responsibility and more commitment than she felt she could take on. This opportunity would inhibit her ability to “experience the city and the region” while maintaining her academic performance at expected levels. Ultimately, she opted not to take an internship. She also declined to take part in my seminar on conflict resolution (also one of her declared interest areas) because it had a 35-page research paper—too much to expect for a “study abroad course.”

 Is she going to be in charge of our foreign aid programs one day?

 Truth is, it’s pretty darn easy for me to create a comfortable study abroad experience in Jordan. With 15 years hard time in the Middle East, I have learned how to make things happen. But by insulating them from the daily frustrations (you think the bureaucracies of college applications are hard? Try and liberate a 60-day visa extension from a Jordanian police station!), I am actually denying them the chance to build the skill set they need to be successful working abroad.

 Perhaps the most beneficial and universal learning opportunity for study abroad is the chance to deal with an unfamiliar, uncomfortable, frustrating environment for an extended period of time and learn you can survive. I know I am supposed to say “thrive” as it sounds more upbeat, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Survival is perhaps our most basic life skill and presumes that the going can be pretty tough sometimes. Shouldn’t we allow our children and students exposure to that reality?

May 14, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I recognized the son of family friends—a freshman in college—for his achievements in entrepreneurship. I know several other young people who are making their way, each moving toward success in college, work, and life. Today, I want to share about another young man—again, family friends—who is making decisions that he sees will lead to success.

 I actually wrote about Mitchell exactly one year ago when he learned he was the recipient of a scholarship/work program offered by a local engineering company. The company offered him full tuition, fees, and books at our local community college as well as a part-time job. Mitchell was happy to get it as he hoped to study engineering. His parents were happy about it, for the full scholarship, of course, but also because they sensed Mitchell was not ready to move away from home or to attend a four-year university.

 Mitchell worked full-time for the company last summer and then started classes in the fall. Before long he understood that the two-certification program in clean energy technology was not a path toward a four-year degree; rather, it would certify him to continue the work that the engineering company desired. While it was good training, several of the courses would not transfer to four-year colleges, and Mitchell wanted to eventually study to be a fully-degreed engineer.

 At first, Mitchell thought he would complete the two-year program because the certification was valuable and he was getting great experience working at the company. But finally this spring, Mitchell decided, in fact, he did not want to wait to start work on a four-year degree. He told his parents that he wanted to drop the scholarship and move on toward his long-term goal of becoming an engineer.

 That is exactly what he has done. He spoke with the company representative who understood, but who explained that the company would not be able to further employ him. Mitchell was allowed to finish out the couple of weeks left in the semester, and was told to look up the company after he obtained his degree.

 Mitchell is now set to attend Colorado Mesa University in the fall. Mitchell chose Colorado Mesa for a couple of reasons—he liked the smaller school size and he liked that the school had an engineering program that coordinated with the University of Colorado. His first two years will be at Colorado Mesa; his final two years will be at the University of Colorado and his degree will come from CU.

 It appears to be a great fit—it gives Mitchell time to adjust to college life in a smaller setting before he moves on to the large CU campus. Although the other program did not work out, it gave Mitchell the extra year he needed to adjust and feel prepared to move on—developing self-management skills that will help him feel confident and help him be successful in the new college environment.

 One last thing to point out—Mitchell learned about the scholarship/work program during his senior year in high school when he was enrolled in an alternative program that allowed him to work part-time and that introduced him to various businesses in the community. As I’ve said numerous times in the last few months, these alternative high school programs are valuable in helping students move toward success in college and beyond.

 To see a picture of Mitchell, see the Toward College Success Facebook page: