As parents of an Alma College student you may have questions about the services available to your sons and daughters. Here are some frequently asked questions. Many of these are related to the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) but information about other Alma College campus offices is also included.
- What services are available for my student at the Counseling and Wellness Center?
- Tell me about the Counseling and Wellness Center staff.
- How does a student make an appointment at the Counseling and Wellness Center?
- What hours are available for counseling appointments?
- What services are outside of the Counseling and Wellness Center’s scope of practice?
- My student has been seeing a therapist at home. How is this situation handled?
- A doctor at home has prescribed medication for my student (for depression, ADD, panic attacks, etc.). Can my student get prescriptions refilled at Alma College?
- Are there psychiatrists in the Alma/Mt. Pleasant area?
- Why wouldn’t anyone at Alma give me any information about my student when I called?!
- I am aware that my student is being seen at the CWC. Can I talk to his/her counselor?
- I want my student to get help from the Counseling and Wellness Center. How do I get him/her to go?
- Is it possible for someone from the Counseling and Wellness Center to contact my student and ask them to come in?
- Are there some common problems usually that college students may experience?
- I’m worried about my student at Alma. What can I do to help?
- My student calls home and says she is unhappy? What can I do?
- My student is homesick. What should I do?
- I'm concerned my student may be drinking too much. What can I do?
- My student said something about suicide and I’m worried. What should I do?
- What other offices on campus help students?
- My student has a disability. What does he/she need in order to get accommodations?
- My student is undecided. Is this a problem?
- I just saw my student’s grades and they were terrible!
- My student is having trouble with classes. Is there a way for her/him to get extra help?
- My student is having trouble keeping up with all the coursework.
- My student isn’t getting along with her/his roommate.
- My student doesn’t seem to be making any friends at college.
- My student just broke up with a boyfriend/girlfriend.
The staff at the CWC offers short-term, individual and group counseling for currently enrolled students at no cost. We also are often called upon to consult with individuals or groups who are concerned about a third party.
Examples of this might be students who suspect a friend or roommate may be depressed, resident assistants who have noticed behaviors that may be harmful to a student, or perhaps a professor who is concerned about an inexplicable decline in grades. Parents also consult with the CWC when they have concerns or questions about their students. We welcome these calls and are happy to answer questions, clarify policies, and follow up on a student, if necessary.
All staff members are mental health professionals with graduate degrees in counseling. Each CWC staff member has extensive experience in her/his field(s) and in working with college students.
Students can make an appointment in person or by calling our office at x7225. The CWC is open to make appointments between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Counseling appointments are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Special arrangements may be possible for students who can not schedule an appointment during regular center hours.
As a college counseling center the CWC provides short-term therapy. We do not offer treatment for serious or life threatening conditions. Anorexia and other serious eating disorders that may require hospitalization, alcohol or drug addiction, serious personality disorders, and ongoing psychotic disorders are considered outside of our scope of practice. In cases such as these students will be required to find appropriate treatment off-campus. CWC staff will be happy to assist with referrals if feasible.
At times students require more frequent counseling sessions than is feasible at the CWC. In these cases we will assist the student in identifying an outside therapist.
The relationship that is established between a therapist and client is very important for successful counseling. We encourage your son or daughter to continue working with a therapist at home if he/she wants to.
If this is not practical, it is possible for the home therapist to consult with a CWC staff member (with the appropriate signed consent) and develop a plan to ensure your student will continue to receive the services he or she needs. This may mean that your student will see one of the CWC staff or we may arrange a consult with a local practitioner. This decision will be determined by the specifics of the case, the diagnosis, and the kind of treatment and care required.
The CWC has no medical providers; however, there are several pharmacies close to campus.
Yes, the CWC maintains a list of psychiatrists and other mental health care professionals to assist with referrals.
All colleges must comply with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also know as FERPA. Although it is often a source of frustration among parents, FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of students’ educational records.
Alma College personnel cannot give out information about our students because they have specific, protected rights regarding the release of their records. This includes grades and other academic records contained in a student’s file. This information can only be released with the written permission of the student. The main exception to this is that faculty and other campus officials with a legitimate need to know may receive and review information about the student.
If your student is seen in the counseling center, his/her information is considered confidential and will not be divulged without his or her written permission. Exceptions to this practice arise when, in the judgment of the counselor, a student poses an immediate threat to himself or another individual.
State law and professional ethics prohibit counselors and other mental health practitioners from disclosing any information disclosed during a therapy session without a release of information signed by the client.
You are always welcome to call the counseling center at any time. We are able to listen to any information that you would like to share and may be able to offer some suggestions. It is important, however, that you recognize that we will not be able to disclose any confidential information about any student without his/her signed consent. This includes not only the contents of a counseling session but also whether or not a student has been seen at the CWC.
Counseling usually works better when it is a personal decision; however, many parents call because they are concerned about their students and would like them to get some help. Sometimes taking a direct approach is effective. Saying something like, “You sound like you are pretty upset. Have you considered talking to someone at Counseling and Wellness?” often gets them thinking about the resources that are available on campus. In some cases students may not have even thought about the Counseling Center as an option but this type of encouragement is all that was needed to get them to the center.
Students may be reluctant to seek counseling because of a desire to solve their own problems. It is good to encourage this type of independence; however, in more serious situations, such as depression, it is important to point out to your student that some things cannot be resolved without help. Let your student know that it is normal for college students to have problems and that seeking help for them is a sign of maturity. Even if he/she does not take your advice immediately, you will have planted a seed that may bring them in later.
We suggest that you first talk to your student about counseling. If you have already made the suggestion but your student has not contacted the CWC, we may offer to send an e-mail to your student telling them that you are concerned and offer an appointment.
Students do not always respond to these e-mails, but sometimes it turns out to be the ‘nudge’ that was needed and they call for an appointment. As mentioned before, it is always best when the student initiates the contact.
The CWC staff’s expertise covers wide range of mental health field concerns from homesickness to depression. We typically see students with problems that can be classified as developmental or psychological.
Developmental problems are those that all young adults face such as learning to establish relationships and get along with others, developing an identity separate from their family, making decisions about their future, learning to communicate effectively and to manage their emotions, making good choices, gender and identity concerns, and developing strategies to effectively deal with their own problems.
Students may also experience psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and panic, alcohol and other substance issues, dealing with trauma, and thought of self-harm. Other issues that usually require counseling are the emotional effects of learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, or disordered eating.
Sometimes the best thing that a parent can do to help is often the hardest because it involves letting his student solve a problem by himself. Although it is not always easy to stand by and watch as your student struggles, you are actually helping him/her build important problem solving skills that will serve him/her throughout his/her life.
You can play an important role in this process by becoming an active listener. This means to listen as your student “vents” about whatever is going on and by trying to be non-judgmental and empathetic. Your student probably needs you to encourage him/her and to express your confidence in his/her ability to handle the situation. Even though you may know how you could intervene, resist the urge to rescue your student. Each challenge that your student handles successfully will help to build his/her confidence.
If, in your judgment, the problem is more serious and he really does need some help, suggest to that he speak with his RA, hall director, professor, or coach or come to the CWC—depending on the situation. There are many people at Alma College ready and willing to help.
While these phone calls are difficult for parents, it is likely that your student really just needs to vent. Your role has probably always been that person who was ready to offer support and encourage. Remember, this is an adjustment process and hearing your voice may be all she needs. In most cases listening and possibly suggesting that she/he visit the Counseling Center may be in order. As she/he develops resources on campus and learns that there are people available you’ll probably receive fewer of these calls and more about the things that are going right.
Sometimes students are not as unhappy as they sound. Here are some guideline questions that will help you find out how your student is doing. Positive responses to most of these questions/issues are a good indicator that things are going fine. Negative responses to lots of these questions suggest your student may be struggling to adjust and succeed.
- Eating healthy?
- Getting enough sleep?
- Avoiding misuse of alcohol and other substances?
- Taking prescribed medications?
- Getting along with roommates?
- Finding and sustaining healthy/stable friendships?
- Always attending class?
- Getting to office hours with faculty?
- Telling you (parent/guardian) about what they are studying?
- Seeking help (tutoring, academic counseling) when struggling?
- Meeting with academic advisor regularly?
- Found some friends to socialize with?
- Joined a club/organization?
- Taken a campus job?
- Staying on-campus/at school for most weekends?
- Going to concerts or games?
- Tracking important deadlines/assignment dates/test dates in some way (planner, PDA)?
- Balance between work hours and study time working out OK?
- Able to distinguish between commitments essential to academic success and other commitments?
Enjoying the experience
- Balancing good stories with bad stories when talking to you (parent/guardian)?
- Finding time and ways to have fun?
- Comments about missing home balanced by comments about positive experiences at school?
- Willing to engage in discussion of college life?
If you have a conversation and you are still concerned about what you are hearing/feeling, let someone know. It could be the student’s RA, an advisor, or a faculty member you met during Orientation Week. As always, CWC staff are available to lend emotional support (to both students and parents!).
Almost 70% of students living away from home for the first time experience homesickness. For some, it only lasts a few days, but for many it may last as long as 8 weeks. Psychologists call homesickness “separation anxiety,” and very few people are immune. Many first-year students experience some of the symptoms of homesickness, and despite the fact that others are also suffering, it may feel to your student that he or she is the only one.
It is important to be aware of homesickness as a normal process that occurs when people try to adjust to new routines and a new environment. Even if your student felt really ready to come to college he/she may struggling at first. This is because the move to college forces a student to let go of old, familiar surroundings. For many this may be difficult at first because he/she has been presented with a new way of living his/her life.
Perhaps the most helpful thing for you to do is to provide reassurance that homesickness is normal and will eventually pass. Encourage your student to get involved on campus and get out of his/her room and meet people. It is also not a good idea to let your student come home too frequently on weekends. A lot of great social opportunities happen on weekends, and the more a student leaves campus the longer homesickness may persist.
Counselors at CWC are available to help your homesick student. We are also happy to talk with parents (this is tough on you too!).
Despite the risks involved, few parents broach the subject of alcohol consumption with their college-aged child. However, a well-timed dialogue about behaviors and consequences can circumvent problems later on. The important thing to remember is that you already have a well-established relationship with your child and he or she may even be expecting this conversation before leaving home for college.
Begin by setting expectations—not just about drinking, but about academics, personal and social lives as well. It is surprising that in many families this conversation never takes place. By honestly discussing what you expect of your student as she/he tests newfound freedoms, you will be able to set some realistic goals together.
If you attended college, you may want to share your experience with your child. Be straightforward; explain that you want them to enjoy college and have fun, but be careful not to glamorize your drinking or the drinking of others.
This may also be a good time to discuss people in your family who drink responsibly and those who do not. It is important that your child understands that if there is a history of alcoholism in his/her family, the risk of becoming alcoholic is greater. Knowing about the potential risks involved will enable your student to make an informed decision of whether to drink or not.
Some parents may doubt that this type of a conversation would have much impact. Yet a recent study showed that simple mother and teen conversations like, “My mom and I have talked about how drinking can get me into trouble and is bad for my health,” were helpful in preventing binge-drinking in college freshmen (Turrisi, 2000).
Keeping the doors to communication open is also an important preventative measure. Call or e-mail frequently during the high-risk first year. Ask questions about your student’s social life and out-of-class activities to assess how he/she is doing. Try to pick up on stress or indications of being overwhelmed. Teach him/her how to refuse a drink at a party and where to find help on campus. Discuss the differences between low-risk and high-risk drinking and make sure your student understands the physical, legal, and parental consequences.
Because you know your child better than anyone else, you are in an excellent position to predict areas that may be problematic as he/she makes the transition to college. While it is important for your student to know you are supportive of their new independence, being ‘up front’ with your concerns is also a way of assuring them that you trust his/her ability to make good choices. Your child values that trust and wants you to be proud. Helping him/her set up behavioral guidelines will provide the structure he/she will need to make good decisions and feel good about his/her behaviors as he/she enters the adult world.
CWC staff are also ready to work with your student on alcohol issues. We are also happy to make referrals to community groups and private therapists.
The mention of suicide is something that should always be taken seriously. Your asking direct questions about the underlying issues that may be causing suicidal thoughts or feelings may come as a relief and make it OK for the person to start talking about his/her problems.
Talking about suicide, either directly or indirectly, should be considered a warning sign as are giving away possessions, seeming preoccupied with death, becoming socially isolated, and significant changes in personality or behavior. A previous suicide attempt increases the likelihood that the person may make another attempt. Depression and panic disorder also increase the risk.
CWC staff are always willing to help in any way possible in such situations. This can include seeing the person immediately, conferring with parents or others, contacting the student directly, etc.
Alma College has several offices available to help students. These include Student Life, The Chaplain’s Office, the Registrar’s Office, and Center for Student Opportunity. Our staff will be happy to point your student in the right direction to find the assistance he or she may need.
Nate Payovich in the Center for Student Opportunity is the campus administrator designated to assist students with disabilities. You can also find information on disability accommodations, including documentation requirements, here.
Being “undecided” (a.k.a. undeclared) in a major can be a good thing but it is often a major source of stress for new college students. In truth, the majority of college students remain undecided through their freshman year and there are rarely any long-term negative effects. You might use the following points to start a discussion with your student:
- Think of your first year as a time of exploration. Your advisor is a great resource for helping you stay on track academically while discovering new interests.
- Realize that rushing to declare a major can actually delay your graduation if you choose without a thorough investigation.
- Visit the Center for Student Opportunity and explore some of the career assessments and personality profiles.
- Don’t panic. Take your time and choose a major wisely.
These suggestions should help you have informed conversations with your student; however, they only scratch the surface. The staff of the Center for Student Opportunity are available to help if you have questions or if a particular problem arises; however, it is important to involve your child in a collaborative effort to address the problem. Some resources that may be helpful include:
- Don’t Tell Me What To Do: Just Send Money, by Helen Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller (2000).
- When Your Kid Goes To College: A Parent’s Survival Guide, by Carol Barkin (1999).
- Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn & Madge Lawrence Treeger(1997).
Many students experience a drop in grades from high school to college. As students receive their first-term grades, many are disappointed with their initial performance. If your student’s grades fall short of expectations, this may be the perfect time for him/her to to evaluate his/her progress, adjust study habits, and seek assistance if necessary. Many students become re-energized between terms and renew their commitment to their studies.
Help your student see that this may be the time to seek study skills help, talk with a counselor, see his/her academic advisor, or request a free tutor in the Center for Student Opportunity. This is often the first opportunity for students to be totally responsible for their own time management. Finding the appropriate balance between study and play involves a great deal of experimentation and judgment.
Time management skills are critical, especially with Alma’s 14-week term. Your student can find assistance from the Hall Directors and Resident Assistants in the residence halls, the CWC or the Center for Student Opportunity.
It is always best for students to start by talking with their professors. Professors are available to talk with students during their office hours and many departments provide group tutoring for their subjects.
Students who would like help with their writing should visit our on-campus writing center in the library. Staff in the Center for Student Opportunity can also offer tips on study skills and can provide free tutors for most Alma College courses.
Students often expect the skills that used to achieve good grades in high school will transfer to the college setting. They soon learn that there is a big difference in their workload and the ways they need to study to be successful.
There may be several reasons for a student’s inability to keep up. Identifying the source will help us to determine what services may be appropriate. In some cases there is an emotional adjustment period when a student first moves on campus. When you are busy fitting in and getting used to a new environment it is possible to spend more time “adjusting” than on study. Roommate issues, personal problems or homesickness can also divert attentions from coursework. These are common issues that the counseling staff at the CWC can help with.
In other cases students may lack study, time management, motivation, or organizational skills. Staff in the Center for Student Opportunity can help your student develop these skills.
Many first-year college students form friendships with their roommates that last well beyond their college years. In some cases, however, it takes a bit of effort to make the match work. Keep in mind if your student is a first year student, she/he may need to give it some time.
If it is less than a month, we suggest that she/he wait until both roommates have adjusted to school a little longer before making the decision that they can’t live together. If it has been longer than a month, suggest that your student think about why she/he doesn’t like living with the roommate. Has your son or daughter talked to the roommate about the problem? Many times students forgo trying to communicate when the problems may have been solvable.
If both roommates have tried to work it out and have not been successful, they need to contact their Resident Assistant. The RA has been trained in mediation and will try to help the roommates find common ground or she/he may help facilitate a room change if all else fails.
For many students college may be the first time that they actually have to think about making friends. If they have been in the school system or lived in the same town most of their lives, meeting people probably occurred without too much effort. College is different and even though many students fear that they may not make any friends, they will. But there are some things that you can recommend to improve their chances:
- Suggest that they get involved—join a club or organization.
- When they are in their rooms, suggest they leave the door open.
- Ask classmates questions or suggest a study group.
- If they see someone eating alone suggest that they ask to join them.
- Avoid going home every weekend.
- Knock on someone’s door and introduce yourself.
- Put a dry erase board on your door and write a friendly message.
There are many great opportunities to meet people on Alma’s campus. Encourage your students to begin the first day by helping other students move in. With a little effort they can meet someone new every day and soon they will not be worried about making friends.
Brea- ups can be very painful experiences and it can be very difficult as to see our children struggling with the emotional aftermath. Usually the emotional distress, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, and difficulty concentrating are temporary. These are often typical reactions to loss and (although your student probably wouldn’t agree) they will pass.
Because you may be the first person that your child will turn to your biggest job will be to provide emotional support. Just hearing that their feelings are normal and not permanent may come as a relief. You might also remind them that counselors are available. Sometimes having an impartial, nonjudgmental person to talk to on campus will expedite the healing process.
The CWC staff is available to assist in any way we can. Our staff is available to provide counseling services and support to bereaved students. Terri, our administrative professional at the CWC, can assist by informing professors if a student needs to leave on short notice. She can be reached at 989-463-7225. The Chaplain’s Office is also another valuable campus resource. The chaplain can be reached at 989-463-7981.
Unfortunately students sometimes have to deal with unpleasant events in life such as family conflicts or divorce. Please suggest that they seek out a counselor at the CWC during these difficult times.