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Packing for College: The Real Essentials

By: Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D.

· Parenting,College,High School

I’d like you to join me in the student parking lot of LaSalle University in late August 1988. An 18 year-old is unpacking the college essentials from every square inch of his car. Typewriter, boom-box, cassette & VHS tapes, bottles of Sea Breeze and hair mousse. It’s freshman move in day.

His mind is filled with excitement, wonder and anxiety, while anticipating the adjustment to this new scene. LaSalle was his top college choice. He’s even a bit sad knowing there was a home with a single parent mom and 2 younger siblings he left behind.

Despite an initial roommate change, friendships were quickly formed over cheap beer, parties, and pickup basketball games. The social adjustment was easy, nothing short of spectacular.

Academically it was a different story. He was an average high school student. Procrastination, time management, and self-motivation were major challenges to academic success. He brought the same academic approach to college where the work was harder and expectations higher.

In the first couple of weeks he and the other first year students were eased into coursework. Then they lowered the boom.

Test grades and papers with C’s, D’s, and F’s were returned with feedback. He didn’t read it and made no priority to schedule with a single professor outside of class. This guy lied to his friends and family. He bragged about achieving better grades and was quick to pin blame on professors for any subpar performance.

The first 8 weeks flew by. Stressed increased with midterms fueled by a diet of caffeinated all-nighters, snickers bars, Beefaroni and Ramen noodles. He made no changes in the second half of the semester. For the final 8 weeks he carried a heavy book-bag even when planning to skip class. "Why bother now?" and “It won’t matter” were frequent excuses. He also carried embarrassment, anxiety, and self-doubt.

He never once asked for help.

Despite that first semester experience ending with a GPA that led his mother to ask, “Is that mathematically possible?” he chose the same approach for another 2 semesters. Before the start of each he made promises to do better and stated plans to study more. And like most New Year Resolutions the same patterns, habits, and outcomes returned in a matter of weeks.

The reality of achieving future goals seemed impossible. Until the first week of his 4th college semester when he made a simple adjustment. He created a clear workspace at his dorm-room desk and committed to writing a 1-8 word summary of each read paragraph in the margin of an assigned Philosophy book. He did this with every reading assignment. A simple adjustment became a new discipline.

It worked. It was his “Ah-ha” moment. The powerful experience of opening one's mind up to personal assessment and making a simple adjustment that leads to success. He earned his first A grade in that Philosophy class. Far beyond the grade, he connected with confidence, motivation, and inspiration.

That was the moment when I discovered the value of self-awareness. I didn’t unpack it from my car in August of 1988 during move in day. Because I never considered the value of packing it in the first place.

There are a set of skills for which students have never received a grade - skills that fall under the umbrella of Emotional Intelligence. These are skills like self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, leadership, and motivation. Development and awareness of such skills have huge implications on college transition, personal development, college success, career readiness, and life fulfillment. But, most students do not recognize the value of these skills nor take time to develop them, especially when overwhelmed for years by the emphasis on score achievement on standardized tests.

I share my story so that you can observe your child’s upcoming experience in middle school, high school or college with eyes wide open. I hope that you will be able to see a lack of self-awareness when it presents itself. And, I hope that you will offer the guidance that your child will need to master these crucial skills (or that you are aware enough to find someone who can).

If you’d like pointers on how to coach your child in these critical skills, visit my Power Parent’s Group on Facebook.

The Group is for parents of middle school, high school and college-aged children and is dedicated to:

  • Alleviating anxiety (of the parents)

  • Sharing parenting experiences

  • Providing useful parenting tools for use with young-adult children

Dr. Joel Ingersoll helps college and high school students develop college transition, performance, and career success skills. As President & Founder of Take On College, Joel has empowered thousands of students to maximize their potential, college experience and return on tuition. Joel is the author of the forthcoming book Take On College: Winning Strategies for College & Career Success! Sign up for helpful tips, articles, & resources! Joel developed and hosts the College Success Academy Summer Virtual Intensive.

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