Four Questions You Should’ve Asked Me (A Once-Struggling Off-Campus Student)
As an off-campus student, it’s much more difficult to engage in the campus experience than students living in residence halls. This was my experience several years ago when I was commuting 30 minutes each way to campus. My network existed at home, where friends, family, and homework more than filled my time. But I was missing something.
One year into my student experience, my professor called me to ask why I had been missing class. I had taken the liberal “we don’t track absences” plan a little too literally. Even though it didn’t count against my grade, my professor did care whether I would succeed in her class. This was a turning point for me; shortly after, I got involved in student government, was more engaged in my on-campus job, and ultimately had a fulfilling student experience in a few short months.
Taking my personal experience into account, here are my four questions I wish my student support team had asked me during those difficult months:
1. Where do you go after or between classes?
As a (former) off-campus student myself, I know that it is difficult to create networks when your family, friends, and comfort zone are miles away from campus. It is much easier to go to the coffee shop near my house where the barista knows my name because I’ve been going there for years. I would drive the 30-minute commute during my 2-hour break from classes because I wanted the comfort of my own living room – even if that meant sacrificing an hour of driving time.
From this question, you will learn where they study, what they do with their free time, whether they have an internship, and what their on-campus network is like. If they go home and don’t interact with campus (whether those interactions happen with peers, resources, or physical spaces), you know they are not engaged with the campus experience.
2. What on-campus resources are you utilizing?
Does your campus have a writing center, counseling center, health center, or career center? My guess is yes – and likely, you have all four. We create these opportunities in an effort to engage students, keep them on campus, and offer them the resources they need to be successful. We communicate these through email, posters on campus, speakers during orientation… but does the student actually hear what you are saying? And most importantly, does that message turn into action for them to actually utilize the service?
This question will give a sense for their familiarity with campus and whether they are absorbing your messaging about on-campus activities. If they don’t know of any resources, they are likely not reading their email and not paying attention to messaging around campus. It will also give you the opportunity to plug specifics you learned in question 1 to resources existing on campus. (For example, if they say they go to a coffee shop near their house, mention the on-campus coffee shop where professors and students get a drink between classes.)
3. Has a staff or faculty member taken a particular interest in you as a person?
This one won’t be a surprise: personal relationships can make or break the campus experience for students. A close relationship (particularly a mentor-type role) with a faculty or staff member has a deep impact on a students’ perception of their college experience.
If the student does not have this type of relationship, ask yourself who in their network may be able to fill this role. Do they have a faculty advisor who they can connect with through a one-on-one meeting? Do they have an on-campus job where their supervisor may be able to make a significant impact on their experience? Can you even fill this role? It
4. What does success at this institution look like for you?
We have arrived at the final question. You now know their study habits, clubs and organizations they belong to, and personal connections they’ve made during their time at your institution.
But here’s the kicker: there is not a catch-all solution for every student, because not every student wants the same thing. Work together with the student to envision their ideal campus experience, connect them with resources that will help them individually succeed, and set milestones that will help them get engaged in a way that works for them. With these four questions, you will understand the present situation and be able to envision a future for this student at your institution.
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