This morning it is very much colder – only in the teens, but with the wind chill it feels like single digits. For NC, this is *cold*. All eyes are turned to the forecast to see if it will snow. It looks like most of the major weather will take place well east of Winston-Salem. Still, there appears to be a decent chance of snow midday through tonight, though not much accumulation predicted.
Even though classes have just started this semester, we have some students – sophomores in particular – who are beginning to think very long and hard about choosing a major, and whether they want to go abroad (and if so, which semester). Sophomores with adequate credits will declare a major mid-semester, and there are many fall 2014 abroad programs (both at Wake and at other affiliated programs) who will require applications to be turned in around March.
Today’s blog isn’t about which major to choose or whether/where/when to go abroad, but it is more about the general decision making process itself. Some of our students have no problem making decisions. For others, they seem to be experiencing either difficulty in making the decision, and/or regret about possible consequences of that decision.
Without being able to see inside people’s heads, I don’t know their reasons for the struggle to decide – but I have a couple of guesses:
- It might be that students are afraid of making the wrong choice.
- Or they are afraid of missing out on something fun by choosing X over Y.
- Maybe they are afraid there will be disapproval (real or imagined) from family and friends.
- Or even if students think X is the best choice, they have some anguish that by choosing X, a whole series of doors will close forever or there will be wonderful opportunities they miss as a result that will negatively impact the rest of their lives (as seen in this cartoon).
In other words, it seems that for some students, they might be attributing a lot of weight to a choice that in reality might not be a game changer.
Parents and families, perhaps you can help here, by talking to your students about decisions you have made. At this stage in their development, your students may not know that not everything has to be an Epic, Lifealtering, No-Way-to-Go-Back decision. So help them keep things in perspective. Talk to them about some decisions you have made – good and bad – and help them get used to the idea that you aren’t ever going to be 100% right and 100% wise all the time. Sometimes you won’t choose the best option, but I guarantee you will learn from that choice nonetheless.
There is a second piece to decision making that may also come into play – which is wanting to do A, but being unhappy with the consequences. When I hear students who are going through this, it most often sounds to me like they did not think through all the potential outcomes of a decision, and then once they were going through the aftermath they are unhappy. In these instances, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.
Going back to the idea of studying abroad, current sophomores who want to go abroad have to think about whether they want to go abroad in the fall or spring semester. If a student goes abroad in the fall, there may be some potential pros:
- better weather (maybe?)
- more of our students/their friends tend to go abroad in the fall
- ability to be back in the spring for basketball season, Greek recruitment, etc.
However, there may be some potential cons:
- may have to live in a residence hall that is not his/her first choice
- may not be able to select a roommate
The reality of going abroad in the fall semester is that when you return, students don’t get first pick at their residence hall - they will be choosing among vacancies that are opening up as other people depart for the spring semester. So it is likely that your student won’t be in his/her first choice of residence hall, and/or may be rooming with someone he/she doesn’t know. (I went abroad and this sort of thing happened to a lot of my friends).
The key to this scenario is managing expectations and anticipating consequences to help your student make the most informed decision he/she can. Your student needs to weigh those pros and cons. How badly do I want to go abroad? Am I willing to compromise on which semester I go? Will I have such a good time that it will be worth it even if I am placed in a room/residence hall that has a vacancy? Would I be better thinking about going abroad in the spring, that way I can be on campus the fall of my junior year (and be able to select the room of my choice)? Would I be willing to live in a residence hall that is not as in demand (but there will be a double open and I can pull in my best friend), or is the most important consideration the residence hall and I don’t care if I live with a stranger?
Sometimes a decision (or the consequences of a decision) takes a student out of his or her comfort zone. In the case of a returning abroad student being paired in a room with someone they didn’t know previously, that could be the beginning of an amazing new friendship they would never have discovered otherwise. When we step out of our comfort zones, sometimes magic can happen. But we have to be willing to take a leap of faith to get there.
Parents and families, you can help our students understand how to think through decisions – and that few choices are permanent! You can help them understand that there are always outcomes of decisions – some are positive, some are negative, some are neutral. And for the rest of their lives, they are going to have to make decisions where all the results will not be ideal. They will have to prioritize their wants and try to get the most of what they want and (hopefully) the least of what they don’t want.
With decisions, there will always be compromises, and sacrifices, but also wins. And as they learn that, the more comfortable they might be thinking ahead, planning, and making those choices with more confidence and realism about outcomes.