By: Rachel Livingston, Vice President of Programs
January is a busy time! The new school semester is beginning. Students are organizing their financial aid
for the semester and juggling their new schedule of classes with their work and study schedule. Graduating seniors are finalizing their required documents to officially complete their degree, while freshmen return to classes as seasoned students with one semester of college under their belt.
On a January afternoon a few weeks ago, over 70 college students tuned in to an afternoon webinar entitled “New Year Resolutions,” many of them tuned in during a break from class or work. They spent an hour reflecting on their achievements and successes in 2022, the goals they had set that they have not achieved yet, and how they can use the new calendar year as an opportunity to refocus and renew. While students filled the Zoom chat box with notes about their goals and desires for 2023, our Programs team prompted them to use a thematic framework to look at how to approach and build their goals for the year.
College students have limited time and energy to focus — so why are we spending time providing programming about new year’s resolutions? As a comprehensive college access and success organization, we know that the best way to help our students thrive is to engage them in conversations about all aspects of their lives, not just classes and school. In the workshop, students talked about wanting to achieve academic goals. Still, by far, the largest number of goals centered on health and wellness: examples include exercising more, sleeping better, managing their stress better, losing weight, lessening their anxiety, and spending more time doing things that bring them joy. The College Success team used the workshop as an opportunity to have impromptu conversations about the things weighing on our students’ minds. These conversations are critical to how our fantastic College Advisors develop strong relationships with their students. These conversations help maintain meaningful connections between our staff and students — connections that we use to support students in their academic and personal goals. Over the past few years, we have become keenly aware that students struggling with wellness are also struggling in school. Designing programming that supports their social and emotional well-being is essential to their academic success.
Our focus on student wellness creates a multipronged approach. Our one-on-one conversations with students focus on stress and anxiety relief. Helping our students name the things causing them stress (finances, roommate conflicts, schoolwork overload, etc.) allows us to discuss it with them. We use those conversations to help support our students’ emotional wellness – serving as a sounding board and a resource for guidance as we help them work through their stress and remind them that their experiences are part of the everyday life of college students as well as “adulting.”
On the high school side, it is financial aid season. After completing their college applications in the fall, seniors are working diligently to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CADAA (California Dream Act Application) to secure the money to fund their college education. Working on college applications and financial aid forms is necessary as students prepare for their next steps in life after high school. Fulfillment Fund counselors are by their side, assisting with applications and ensuring students present accurate information as quickly as possible. Completing these forms is crucial in preparing for college, but it is only one part of the larger focus our college counselors are doing with our students. Filling out college applications and financial aid forms is an excellent avenue for our counselors to have meaningful and connected conversations about the student’s larger goals and ambitions. Students share their hopes for their future but also their concerns. Students worry about adjusting to college, the expectations of professors, and balancing their classes’ workload with their families’ expectations. Students know that when they are working with their counselor, they are not just working with someone who is there to make sure their forms are correct. They know they have someone in their corner who is there to listen and guide them through all the challenges and milestones along their path to their entrance into college.
Our college counselors and advisors are not just talking with students about forms and deadlines. They build trust and connections — helping students to step back and see the bigger picture of their lives and the path to achieving their goals. We know that adolescence and young adulthood are stressful times for students – especially at this moment as we adjust to a new normal post-pandemic. To help our students thrive, we must be there for all aspects of their school experience. So, no matter if they need help choosing a class, finalizing their financial aid, drafting an email to a professor, or just breathing through a stressful moment with roommates or family, we are there!