Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When life gets in the way

Some students seem to be "magnets" for life's problems.  The same student gets ill, has problems with a significant other, has a car that dies, has a delayed financial aid grant/loan, has a family member in the hospital, and has a puppy that gets sick.  Obviously, these students may have their attention diverted from their academics as life's problems accumulate.

During my eighteen years working with students with academic issues, I have noticed that academic issues rarely come along without some life issues attached.   However, not all students with multiple disruptions suffer as drastically in their academic performance.  I have spent some time trying to determine reasons why some students juggle all of their life problems and academics better than others.

Here are some thoughts why certain students cope better than others.  The items on the list are not in any specific order.  The students who still succeed academically seem to have several of the following characteristics:

  • They manage their time well.  They schedule time to study within the parameters of other things going on in their lives.  They are more efficient and effective with the time they have available.  As much as possible, they stay on top of reading, outlining, and studying despite the exigencies they are facing.  They get notes from classmates for days they were sick.  They organize rides with friends until a new car is obtained.  They take flashcards to drill with while in the vet's waiting room.  They read ahead in anticipation of going home for dad's upcoming surgery.
  • They utilize the resources available to them.  They schedule appointments with the student health services or counseling center as appropriate.  They are proactive about talking to the deans about possible options at their law school: medical withdrawal, dropping to an underload, leave of absence, re-scheduling final exams, incomplete or in-progress grades, etc. 
  • They explain their problems to their professors without using them as excuses.  They are forthright with the information and explain what they are and are not able to do.  They may well ask for appropriate extensions, patience with their non-preparedness for class, or schedule extra meetings with the professor to compensate for missed classes.  But they do not use the exigencies as excuses for not having to do the work or doing mediocre work in expectation of a sympathy grade.
  • They remember that law school is an important priority even though not the only priority.  They realize they must focus on studying as well as handle the emotional fallout of life.  They do not become consumed by life to the extent of ignoring law school.  They set aside time each day to deal with life and time to study as well.  If they become unable to handle both priorities they talk with the deans about their options.  (Sometimes they have to make the difficult decision to withdraw and come back when life is under control and they can accomplish what they need to do academically.)  
  • They maintain their perspective during difficulties.  They do not let an emergency or disruption send them into a tailspin.  They differentiate between molehills and mountains.  They count their blessings during hard times.  They practice staying calm during crises.  They often have a spiritual core that keeps them centered rather than feeling that they must shoulder the world alone. 
  • They are able to set boundaries on demands in their lives.  They limit the amount of time that others can "control" their lives.  They do not let others interrupt their lives constantly with demands that are non-urgent or unreasonable.  They can differentiate between urgent, important, and unimportant.  Examples: they will run routine errands for their grandmother once or twice a week rather than whenever they get a call; they return telephone calls or e-mails during study time on a priority basis rather than on mere occurrence; they meet their obligationis academically rather than let a friend consume hours talking about her boyfriend woes. 
  • They focus on living their own lives rather than other peoples' lives.  They realize that the only life they can control is their own.  They realize their own  limits as to how they can help others.  Ultimately, they recognize that they cannot save their parents' marriage, prevent their little brother from dating the wrong girl, or prevent their best friend from drinking too much.  They make referrals to skilled professionals, listen as appropriate, and show love to those whom they love.  But they do not take on the responsibility of solving everyone else's problems.

It is hard to juggle law school demands during normal circumstances.  When life throws multiple problems into the mix, it takes courage and hard work to balance everything and make wise decisions.  Students who reach out for help from deans, professors, academic support professionals, and the many other resources available to them are more likely to navigate the problems and law school without academic disaster.  (Amy Jarmon)

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