study skills in college students

Executive Functioning Issues Affect Study Skills in College Students

Some people argue that study skills matter more than knowledge when determining college success. It isn’t until after graduation where life experience becomes valuable in terms of job skills. In college, having a strong foundation of study skills helps students succeed academically, especially in classes outside their field of interest or their major. College students who struggle with executive functioning issues have a particularly difficult time applying these study skills. 

Why Are Study Skills Important for College Success?

High school students are often over-programmed and follow highly structured routines with supervision from parents, teachers, and other adults. And while it is helpful during the teen years for parents to help keep kids on track, if adolescents are not given the opportunity to work on these skills independently, it can actually be detrimental. When young adults transition to a college environment, living independently, it is common for college students to struggle to find a balance on their own. For the first time, they are in charge of their time. They can choose when to go to sleep, when and what they’re eating, and what activities they are prioritizing. This can be exciting for some, and overwhelming for others. Young adults who have not been provided with opportunities to make choices may find themselves freezing when it’s time for them to choose. 

The efficient use of time—key to managing activities, classes, and friendships—helps students fully engage in college opportunities. Time management is just one skill college that students need. Executive functions are the central control processes located in the frontal lobe of the brain that coordinate and manage time as well as the ability to set goals, self-regulate, and think critically. How well students plan, prioritize, initiate, and complete tasks throughout the day reflects their ability to use their executive functions.

How Do Executive Functioning Issues Affect Study Skills?

Strong executive functions enhance the ability to balance options and make healthy choices and form the necessary foundation for academic success. Executive functioning skills usually develop quickly in early childhood and into the teen years. Executive functioning skills keep developing into the mid-20s. Executive functioning issues, such as ADHD or learning differences, affect working memory and compromise other processes that involve the capacity to sustain attention, organize, persevere, problem solve, and think flexibly. Students who struggle with executive functioning issues are more likely to procrastinate assignments, focus too much on the details of an assignment without understanding the greater themes, and struggle to carve out time to focus on assignments. 

Having trouble with executive functioning skills isn’t a reflection of one’s intelligence or academic potential, but rather a reflection of one’s unique learning style. Knowing how to advocate for one’s needs and receiving adequate support can help college students thrive in the classroom. However, many students that acknowledge their executive functioning “deficits” internalize self-doubt and shame instead of looking for creative solutions to help them succeed. 

Tips for Building Study Skills

Learning study skills is just like learning any other subject. It may not come naturally or easily, but those skills can be improved through practice. Here are some tips for building skills for young adults:

  1. Understand your learning style. Just as each person has different strengths, everyone has their own learning style. Some students are auditory learners who excel at listening to lectures. Some students are more visual and prefer photos and color coding to link to their study topic. Other students are kinesthetic learners who need to move and retain information best by “doing”. Understanding the way you learn will help you decide how best to study. Auditory learners may use recordings of lectures. Visual learners may decide to make charts and use highlighters to help them study. 
  2. Set the scene. Finding the right place to study can be helpful to eliminate distractions. For example, studying for an exam in the middle of a loud cafeteria or busy common room may not be the best choice for students who find focusing challenging. It can be helpful to choose a study space that you use often. As you study in that space again and again, your brain and body begins to remember that studying is what you do when you come into that space and may fall into focusing with more ease. If you know that you tend to want a snack or drink while you study, have one nearby so you don’t need to get up and leave the room. Further remove distractions by setting your phone on silent, or sitting with your back to the computer or TV so you’re not tempted to turn it on. 
  3. Make a schedule. Once you have figured out how you can get the most out of your study time based on your learning style and you’ve created an environment that is conducive to studying, make sure you’re scheduling study time into your day. For many young adults, studying may not make the top of their “want to do” list. But it should be on your list. Especially for young adults with executive function issues that can result in difficulties with task initiation and time management, having a set time when you sit down to work is crucial. If you wait until you “feel like it”, chances are that it is not going to happen. Creating a routine where you know that, for example, every afternoon at 2pm you will sit down in your study space and work on assignments helps you stay on track and focused.
  4. Set a realistic pace. College studying is often synonymous with pulling all nighters before a big exam or trying to write your entire 10 page research paper the night before it’s due. But this does not have to be the case. While it may seem like it’s “less” time to cram it all in in one night, this habit can lead to burnout as well as the negative physical effects of sleep loss. Long stretches are counter-productive. After a while, your mind fatigues and wanders, and you start to feel sleepy. You may also become bored and easily distracted. Instead, keep study sessions short. You’ll retain more information studying in short bursts, fitting those bursts around your other daily activities.
  5. Reach out for help. In college it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that since you are out on your own, you should be able to do everything on your own. But that is not a realistic way to view studying, or even life as a whole. We can’t do everything ourselves, and especially for students who lack study skills or have executive functioning issues, having a support system can be the difference between feeling confident and successful and falling behind. If you are attending college, meet with your supervisor or the Office for Student Disabilities Service to find out what services are provided at your school. 

Academic Support in Transitional Living Programs

Too often, young adults who struggle with executive function issues or learning differences do not receive the support they need when they leave to attend college. For some students, they may not realize what services are provided at their school. For others, they may feel embarrassed to seek out help or draw attention to what they may perceive as a flaw. This is why it is crucial for young adults to have a strong support system in addition to their already built study skills. Some young adults may benefit from a residential transitional living program to help them to continue to strengthen their study skills in preparing for attending or returning to college. 

At Journey Home Young Adult, residents have the opportunity to develop and work on their educational goals while in the program with the support of our mentors. Mentors act as life coaches by helping students select the best classes for them to take, apply to college, and their next steps after the program through career counseling. They also help residents manage their time, getting organized, complete school assignments on time, and look for additional resources on their school campus if necessary. These skills are necessary for success in adulthood, beyond a college environment. 

Mentorship at Journey Home Young Adult is all about building rapport with residents, nurturing them through difficult moments, and role modeling practical life skills. Mentors walk alongside teens as they navigate the challenges of adulthood.

Journey Home Young Adult Can Help 

Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for teens ages 18-23. This program addresses emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that teens may face. Common presenting problems include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, body image issues, ADHD and other learning issues, academic struggles, and low self-esteem. 

Journey Home Young Adult provides a nurturing, sober-living environment with a supportive community. Our relationship-based programming helps clients with therapeutic support, life skills refinement, and personal growth. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where teens can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood. Students leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy.

To learn more about executive functioning issues in college students, contact us at 801-444-0794. We can help your family today!

Add Comments