Executive Function Therapy
for College Students
The transition to college can place a high demand on executive function skills. Students are shifting from work due over the course of several days in high school to college assignments with due dates that may be set several weeks, or even a month in the future. Each day's schedule may differ depending on class times, and there may be large gaps of unstructured time between classes. Academics at college are rigorous and demand that students take on more responsibility and develop different studying habits from those acquired in high school. In high school, a parent or teacher often regularly monitor a student's responsibilities and classwork, but college students are held to a higher level of accountability to complete assignments and obligations independently. There may be less flexibility for submitting late work, and delayed submissions can lead to an increased backlog of work that is overwhelming to manage. Students who are accustomed to earning credit for nightly homework assignments in high school may find it difficult to adjust to long-term projects and infrequent assessments that embody college work, and grades may suffer. At college, students need to plan and set goals, use effective learning strategies, organize their resources and materials, and self-monitor so as to know when and how to self-advocate.
An important part of college success is mastering the necessary executive function skills of working memory, organization, flexible thinking, motivation, impulse control, emotional control, and self-monitoring to plan, initiate, prioritize and complete tasks. Students not able to enhance their executive function skills may struggle with organization, managing their schedule, attending classes, breaking down and planning assignments over the course of time to meet deadlines, preparing for exams, and balancing structured and free time. During college, students are required to recognize their own behaviors, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and motivation, particularly since the college environment comes with increased distractions, a broader range of demands and opportunities, and a greater degree of stress. When a breakdown in executive functioning occurs students may experience the impact in various facets of their academic, social, independent living, and work lives.
The executive function skills include volition, planning, purposeful action, and effective performance. Therefore, college students can benefit from our Executive Function 360 Thinking Method that targets these components:
Creating routines and systems for being prepared and punctual to class, work, or social engagements.
Estimate how long tasks will take, prioritize and know which tasks are the most important to do first, self-monitor time to complete work within allocated time frames, minimize and manage distractions to redirect attention to the task.
How to look at, break down and plan their time/tasks from a syllabus. How to plan hourly, daily, and monthly/extended time deadlines.
Technology tools to alert students to the passage of time and for notifications/reminders for classes, due dates, etc.
Task management: how to break down instructions, identify and plan the steps for completion, map out multi-step tasks, avoid procrastination
How to balance the workload with extracurricular and or social opportunities.
How to focus even when tasks or readings feel boring and/or difficult to attend to or when you feel unmotivated to start.
How to break down and plan large term projects (including how to minimize procrastination without resulting panic)
Research and Writing
How to research - identify and create effective search terms, read and integrate information from multiple sources, formulate and express an argument or analysis of information
How to create systems to store and organize research
Written expression: constructing a thesis, developing strategies to provide meaning and depth to their writing, revision or development of voice, revision tools
How to learn from text and lectures: includes reading comprehension and note-taking strategies.
Increasing working memory: how to paraphrase, remember and follow task instructions, engage in problem-solving and decision making, apply what they have learned, and participate/contribute to class discussions.
Managing challenges of perfectionism
How to create a self-study guide from multiple sources of information (class notes, readings, discussions, text books, etc.)
How to remember large volumes of information, spaced retrieval, create a study plan over time
Test-taking strategies- how to allocate time and pace themselves, relaxation, decrease anxiety
Post-test - how to engage in a test review to guide future performance
Creating a study plan and environment conducive to attention and memorization
How to sustain concentration in class or study periods.
Manage and minimize distractions. Recognition of stress and distractions that might impact the completion of academic demands.
Acquiring a better understanding of which strategies and tools have helped or hindered success.
Self-reflection, flexibility, and an understanding of how professors differ in their teaching styles and academic demands.
How to manage school materials, organize their digital life(manage a school learning portal such as canvas, etc., digital files/folders, online research)
Organization of space and materials in their dorm or living situation, and shared spaces. How to manage their environment for optimal studying.
Techniques for how to consistently check and reply to emails.
Forethought: planning time and tasks to earn grades to maintain a required grade point average to maintain enrollment, to seek internships or future employment
Self Care and Independent Living
Self-advocacy: helping students learn how to identify areas of need and proactively advocate for themselves to connect with professors, tutors, study groups, writing centers, the office of disability, etc.
Self-care: sleep hygiene, planning exercise and nutrition
Independent living: helping students use their executive function skills for punctuality, medication management, laundry, maintaining a budget, cooking/meal planning, self-care, housekeeping skills, managing transportation. In particular, helping students to be able to process and maintain a plan of information or action over extended time periods.