4 Signs College Students are Struggling, and What to Do About It

by: Kris Kirilova

Kris is a counselor & owner of Career Life Choices – a counseling practice in Arlington Heights, IL.
Education is an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and skills, grow in a new direction, and do better in life. While the college experience is about learning and growing, there will be some challenges, setbacks, and important decisions college students have to make. Many struggle with classes, changing majors, staying motivated or finding a career path that is a good fit.

Here are 4 signs you are struggling in college, and what to do about it:

1.You chose a major that does not fit your natural abilities, academic interests, and career plans. You feel bored in your classes or you discover your strengths and interests are in a different discipline. You may feel confused or overwhelmed about your education, career and life.

Solution: Consider talking to a career counselor or academic advisor about your career aspirations, academic interests, and capabilities. Many college students change majors or complete a minor to expand their knowledge. Give yourself permission to explore and wander by attending a class session or taking an introductory course in a different major. Consider joining students groups and volunteer activities to get hands-on experience.

At some point, you have to assess who you want be, what you find interesting and fulfilling, and what opportunities exist. I recommend career counseling and finding mentors for a career you are considering. Choose a major that best meets your needs and interests. You are more likely to succeed if you enjoy what you are doing!

2.You are struggling to remain engaged and motivated in your studies or program, and you do poorly in your major classes.

Solution: Reflect on your classes, studies and situation. What might be the cause for the poor performance or low motivation? Do you find the subject matter difficult? Do you struggle with a specific subject or completing an independent project? Consider how you can stay engaged in your program.

  • Keep in mind that difficulties in school may affect your confidence and self-efficacy skills. You may feel confused or insecure about your education, performance in school, and future plans. Sometimes roadblocks in your path, force you to grow in a different direction. Other times, the universe will test your commitment to your goal.
  • It might be time to review your career goals and connect your studies to your career aspirations. Set up short term goals with positive outcomes to reinforce your long-term goals.
  • Your attitude, beliefs and determination play a major factor in your ability to get back on track. Learn new lessons, develop new habits, and seek support from academic advisors, counselors, peers and professors.

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem wonderful at all” – Michelangelo

3.You have the feeling that you do not belong to a program or you are thinking “I don’t really have what it takes to succeed in this discipline.” You may desire to leave your program all together.

Solution: Many students question whether they chose the right program or school. I recommend reflecting on your experiences – both positive and negative. What triggered your dissatisfaction with the program? Were you happy at some point? What has changed since then? Check your attitude and beliefs, too.

Before you decide to leave a program, think about the benefits of staying and leaving. Keep in mind that resilience, optimism and hope are major ingredients in finding a solution to your dilemma. Resilience means that you have the ability to get back on track and go one more mile. There will be some setbacks but you will find ways to overcome obstacles on your way to success.

4.Your priorities and status may have changed while going to school. Job changes, relationship changes, and having kids are common for non-traditional college students. Life just happens.

Solution: Consider your stressors and what adjustments are necessary to continue working toward your goals. Maintain a positive balance among school, work and family by being organized, managing your time and priorities wisely. Set realistic expectations, and if it is necessary, take a semester off to take care of other demands. Having career goals will encourage you to continue your education, focus on what is most important, and overcome challenges in the process.

“Success is a sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out” – R. Collier

Remember to plan your education, career and goals. As a counselor, I help college students to re-evaluate a program, discover careers and find meaning in their learning. If you are concerned about seeing a counselor on campus, seek a career counselor in Chicago or therapist in your community.

Be persistent in your efforts despite a setback…We all experience those…learn from your experience, make some adjustments, and continue. I highly value education, and I believe you do too.

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