Document Actions

You are here: Home Online Magazine teaching & learning Serious doubt

Serious doubt

A new service advises students in their first few semesters – for example those who are considering quitting university

Freiburg, Nov 02, 2017

Serious doubt

Photo: Patrick Seeger

The project “Focus for the first year at university” run by the Central Academic Advising Office is meant to help students get a better start at the University of Freiburg. It offers brief workshops on frequently asked questions often posed by people starting to study. In groups of six to twelve people, students can reflect on their own experiences and exchange ideas with like-minded peers. In addition, the project promotes interdisciplinary exchange amongst those involved with first-year students’ issues. The goal is to improve the quality of counseling students receive. Emilie Häberle sat down for a chat with project director Dr. Friedrich Arndt about students’ doubt.

A phase of doubt can be important to find out what you really want, says Friedrich Arndt. He and his colleagues at the Central Academic Advising Office view themselves as guides to help people help themselves.
Photo: Patrick Seeger

uni’leben: Mr. Arndt, which frequently asked questions do students pose who are doubting their decision to study?

Friedrich Arndt: The people are often insecure and dissatisfied with their situation – they often can’t identify why exactly. They ask if they are doing something wrong or whether the course of study is the wrong one for them. Add to it the fear of failure and not knowing how to get a clearer picture of their situation.

Do students or the people around them view leaving university to be a sign of failure?

People often talk about their fear of failure and their inability to share it with their circle. And when they actually do later, they often discover that their friends don’t take it as negatively as they thought or are even supportive in their decisions. Viewing a departure from the university before completing a degree as failure isn’t helpful to anyone. Instead, I should try to look at the situation in a different way: What does it say about me as a person if I decide to stay at university or if I decide to start something altogether new? What can I learn about myself in this situation? What can I do now? The viewpoint shifts from one of failure to one of possibility and the ability to act.

When do students enter a normal phase of doubt and when is it time to seriously consider reorienting themselves?

In general a phase of doubt can be very important to find out what you truly want. That is why it is important that I learn the skills to deal with such situations. If I have taken measures to change my situation and still feel an enormous psychological strain, then it is a clear sign that I am not in the right place. Perhaps someone selected a field that doesn’t match his or her talents and is therefore not suitable. Poor exam results despite a lot of hard work and trying out various learning methods could be a sign as well. But I still believe that if someone truly wants it and is really motivated, then a lot of things are possible even if he or she isn’t optimally suited for it.

How can you determine where students’ doubts originate – with the course of study, with external circumstances such as the place of study or the living arrangements or that pursuing an academic degree isn’t the right choice in general?

If we were in a counseling situation, I would ask you how you noticed it. If I am going through a tough time and can’t seem to manage my studies at the moment, I can think back to a time in my life in which I overcame a learning situation successfully. Then I can consider what the conditions were. Which criteria were critical for my success? And how does that look today for me? Perhaps I don’t have enough work-life balance and should engage in more exercise to improve my current situation or I can’t study alone and need to find a study group. To figure out what I need, I can talk with others who are stuck in a similar situation. A counseling session can also be helpful.

How do employers view a premature departure from university?

It’s not about having a linear resume, but rather whether you can explain to human resources why you reached certain decisions. That can be extremely helpful feedback for a future employer as it reveals a lot about the applicant’s character. Besides, a premature departure from university is of little interest once you have launched your career. Other criteria matter much more then.

When should someone go through with his or her degree program? Or does the rule “better late than never” apply to leaving prematurely?

If I only have my thesis left to complete, it would make sense to complete the degree.

Nevertheless, I can still ask myself at the same time what I want to do afterward. Is there perhaps an option to start a different course of study? From the universities’ and policymakers’ perspectives, a late premature departure from university or a late change in fields is not desirable. Subjectively, however, it can still be a sensible choice and in my view it is more important that someone makes a clear and conscious decision. Generally speaking, we prefer not to give recommendations or advice at the Central Academic Advising Office, but rather we like to help people help themselves. We view ourselves as guides in the process. We don’t seek to solve the person’s problem, but rather to help bring them in the position of solving it themselves through a conversation.

Why are the new counseling offerings directed specifically to first-year students?

There are two reasons for that. The external reason is the desire from policymakers and universities to offer those in doubt with help early on. A second reason is to avoid increasing psychological strain by facing these issues early. Students have to opportunity to already notice in their  second semester that their field of choice isn’t the right one for them and don’t then start doubting two or three years into it.

Nevertheless, our offerings are open to all students because doubt can rear its ugly head at any time – no matter where you are in the course of pursuing your degree.