The Secret to College Success: Student ContractsPosted on August, 16, 2022 by Susan
by Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.
Many students are heading off to college this week and although we want them to have fun and do well in their classes, some parents may be more concerned about their child succeeding than others and usually, it’s with good reason. Maybe it’s their first time away from home, poor academic performance in the past, or challenges such as learning difficulties, ADHD, executive function weaknesses, anxiety, etc. To ease your mind, and get some sleep, there is something you can do. to help. The secret to academic success is creating a parent-student contract with (not for) your child before they leave for school.
I know you’re thinking that you will never get your child to take it seriously and follow the contract, but I’ll share with you a true story. My son has some learning issues and was on the lower end of the maturity scale when it was time to go to college. He did not embrace efforts to help himself and had never used his accommodations in the past and I was absolutely sure he wouldn’t use them in college. He’s a great guy, everyone likes him, and his social life was, and still is, his priority, but college was a risky investment. He was always an “it’s good enough” kind of kid. Knowing that he would do just enough to get by, setting a hard limit of getting nothing below the final grade of a C in his classes seemed like a good idea and so a parent-student contract was put in place.
Before his last semester in college, he said he wanted to talk to me about amending his contract. Having completely forgotten about the contract by this time, I was surprised he was still thinking about it. He wanted to change the C rule to a D. I asked him if he was planning on getting a D in the coming semester. Of course, he said no, realized he had no basis for his appeal, let it go, and went on to graduate without ever getting a grade in a class lower than a C. Much to my surprise, the contract worked for my son and it can work for your college student as well.
Over the years I have helped countless parents create student contracts and discovered the one thing that makes the difference between students following or not following their contract; creating the contract with your student rather than doing it yourself and having them sign it. Here’s why:
- Ownership-It’s just human nature that people are more motivated to do things they believe was their idea.
- Collaboration-Asking for your child’s input and coming to a mutually agreeable decision will get much better buy-in than just telling them what to do.
- Boundaries/Expectations-Communicating clear expectations and setting boundaries leave no room for interpretation. Be specific!
- Negotiate-Start high and settle for what you both feel is realistic and acceptable.
Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Encourage them to agree to give it a try. Keep the conversation light and, if you feel it escalating, respond calmly and indicate that you can talk another time. Forcing the subject will not help your child get onboard.
I suggest organizing the contract into sections such as this:
- Work habits-attending classes, schedule for completing assignments, studying for exams, etc.
- Parent communication
Personal (This covers what you expect in the areas of):
- Balancing school and social activities
- Discussing situations that impact academics, such as roommate issues
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
- Mental health, such as informing parents of issues
- Open, honest communication
- Reading and cleaning out email regularly
- Financial issues
- A part-time job, work-study, ROTC, etc.
Financial (some may or may not apply):
- Providing monthly allowance for incidentals
- Car insurance (if taking a car to school)
- Meal Plan
- School supplies and materials
- Transportation to and from college.
- Be helpful, supportive, and non-judgmental
- Provide mental health resources (if needed)
- Communication boundaries
- Respect privacy
Of course, student contracts are highly tailored to the needs of the individual student. Having written expectations avoids assumptions and communication breakdowns. However, including your child in the drafting of the contract is imperative for success and should lead to a more enjoyable college experience for both of you.
If you would like my help in creating a contract with your student, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a time to chat.