Susan Orenstein is a licensed counseling psychologist in private practice in Cary and is founder of College Bound for Success, a series of workshops that help parents and students prepare for the transition to college. In an interview with Carolina Parent, Orenstein addresses some of the common concerns and pitfalls that college-bound students face.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges for students transitioning from high school to college?
A. I've seen lots of bright, creative students who have had a very hard time with college life. Some have fallen into destructive patterns, such as disordered eating, destructive relationships and problem drinking. Almost all have struggled with procrastination – if they don’t have excellent time management skills – as the format and structure of college life makes chronic procrastination almost inevitable.
I've been delighted to see students blossom in counseling as they gain stress-management and time-management skills, learn about healthy relationships and gain self-confidence. Students need to understand that many of the challenges and stressors they are facing are common for young adults and not feel that they are abnormal.
If students can acknowledge some of their concerns and struggles and share these with their peers, they can gain a sense of connection (and not feel so isolated or alone). I do my best at minimizing the tragedies some students confront by giving voice to many students’ concerns. Hopefully, students will then be able to address these issues instead of hiding in shame and isolation.
Q. In your workshops, what do you see as the most common sources of anxiety in students?
A. Students are worried about developing a social life – wondering how to meet people and make new friends. It can be very overwhelming, particularly for students who haven't had many transitions in their lives.
I hear students worry about their roommates, wondering if they'll get along and be able to share a small space with a stranger. It can be very stressful for many students and it takes ongoing skills of negotiating, listening, and speaking up for oneself.
Students with medical or mental health issues, such as ADHD, depression or diabetes, are often faced with additional stressors of leaving home and connecting to new providers. They also are concerned about how much to tell other students about their conditions. Many of these students feel a sense of embarrassment and shame. They want a fresh start during their college years and unfortunately may neglect taking steps to care for their health.
Many students struggle with the endless options for socializing and partying. During the first semester of school, some students develop poor sleep patterns, staying up late socializing – that includes drinking for many – and then sleeping in during the day.
Q. Why do some students fail to finish their degree and graduate from college?
A. Lack of direction, lack of support and lack of structure. Many students don't have the skills to manage the infinite choices faced during the college years. Their time is often extremely unstructured, with two or three hours of classes a day and then many hours left in the day for procrastination. Unfortunately, many students also lack effective guidance – the schools often have boundless resources, but students can feel overwhelmed by that as well – and they don't know where to turn or whom to turn to, especially on large campuses.
One other issue: Many students face financial hardship. Students having to work more than 10 to 15 hours a week are faced with extra pressure and demands. If students cannot manage their bills, of course, it will be very difficult for them to concentrate on their school work.