The end of freshman year

the end of freshman yearIt’s May and once again, I find myself addressing high school graduation announcements, planning a celebration party, and prodding yet another teen to defer his “senioritis” for a few short weeks. He’s ready to be done with high school just as his brother was last year at this time. Since the high school graduate this year is also our youngest child, I have spent a good portion of his senior year living in denial that this milestone is now staring us in the face. In fact, Mike threatened me last week that if he saw me weeding (and weeping!) through his baby and school photos one more time, he would re-allocate tickets for his graduation ceremony. A little harsh, but I got the message.

Next week will mark the end of Jake’s freshman year at college, too. Like Mike, he is counting down the hours until he has completed his last final. It has been a challenging year for many college students, including Jake. The uncertainties of this economic recession have taken their toll on many; however, I see college students not only struggling with the recession tangibles (like finding jobs, paying for school, altering living arrangements), but also the intangibles that are more long-term, such as considering if their major is still viable in this new economy, pondering their post-secondary education in relation to their increasing school debts, and lastly, evaluating the impacts of these unknowns and changes with their original career roadmap. There have been hair-pin turns this year that continue to sharply influence their futures.

Jake’s first semester at college and the experience of living in a dorm was positive. He had a good first semester. Grades were good and having his freedom was even better. Then the unknowns of his scholarship for next year and the economic downturn prompted his decision to move home for the second semester and make the 15 minute commute to school.

Jake has a great work ethic, and enjoys his job as a server at a local restaurant. (Okay, he LIKES his job and ENJOYS the paycheck and tips.) As a chemical engineering student, he also participates in a paid internship program two days a week, working with junior
high students who are interested in science. To maximize his time and gasoline, he scheduled all his classes for this semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Six weeks into the spring semester, my husband and I began noticing a shift in priorities and a decrease in the amount of time being spent with his studies. Jake was taking 18 credit hours (6 classes), three of which were advanced math courses. We could tell he was stressed. We sat down and discussed what was on his plate and potentially re-balancing. Taking three math courses simultaneously (even though he excels at and loves math) was not a prudent decision in hindsight. Prior to mid-terms, he decided to drop one math course and an economics course.

college freshmanI told Jake it was his decision to make; it’s also his responsibility to constantly assess what was working and what wasn’t for him … and why. He seemed relieved to have a more manageable schedule; however, with the Tues.-Thurs schedule, 3 math classes, an internship, a part-time job, and a girlfriend, study time was getting slowly squeezed. I guarantee when Jake receives his semester grades, they will not look like the previous semester. The lesson may be unfortunate and costly.

There are lots of questions that he will need to address: Is he burned out on school? Did he become too overwhelmed with those three math courses and simply shut down? Did his stress stem from multiple priorities and unbalance or did his lack of prioritization and balance cause his stress? Did worries about the ability to fund three more years of college during a recession cause him to mentally quit? Only he knows. Only he can honestly confront these issues. We talk openly about it. He knows that we’re here to support him, but I can tell you it’s not easy biting your tongue. Too bad there isn’t a crystal ball that college students can glance into to see what their lives may look like in 5-10 years.

Perhaps that’s where the infamous proverb, “Hindsight is 20/20″ originated. Mike’s observations of his brother’s struggles this semester will be an asset (hopefully) in avoiding the same mistakes next year. There are a few benefits to being the younger sibling. With summer around the corner, Jake will have time to de-stress, re-group and figure out the best plan for the upcoming fall semester.


Paying for the Second Year