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When Plan A doesn't work

From the Winter 2011 Parent Newsletter

My daughter just found out she was not accepted into the nursing program. Her academic adviser is telling her it’s time to create a Plan B, but my daughter is devastated and can’t seem to make any decisions. Who can help?

As a counseling office staff member, I have a strong appreciation for the work academic advisers do with students. Recent advising initiatives in what’s described as “student self-authorship” are particularly interesting. They honor a student’s collective experiences and recognize his or her capacity to create a vision using the resources and support on campus. Based on this vision, the student creates The Plan and goes about implementing it—except when The Plan doesn’t work out, as in the case noted here.

As with most life experiences, pursuing an academic/career plan should include having a back-up plan. Unfortunately, no one wants to think about Plan B, because that usually means Plan A has failed. While it’s not uncommon for students to need a Plan B, questions remain on how to create it. Here are some considerations.

Deal with the loss

Too often, students move on to Plan B without taking time to reconcile their loss. Abandoning Plan A is a loss. And losses involve grieving and acceptance. Students often feel angry, upset, and guilty when their plans are dashed. They often experience doubts or shaken confidence: “Will it happen again?”Students who move on too quickly to Plan B risk carrying residual feelings that can undermine their efforts.

Embrace the possibilities

Plan A isn’t always what it was cracked up to be. If a student graduates under Plan A, only to be dissatisfied in the field, he or she may regret not having made a change. As the true author of this path, however, the student needs to explore Plan A before concluding it’s not right. Plan B then becomes an opportunity to invest effort and resources on a path with the potential for greater satisfaction.

Reexamine Plan A

Why didn’t Plan A work? Wrong fit and inadequate academic preparation are the most common factors. I’ve met with students whose career plans were based on inaccurate perceptions of fit (e.g., “I really like the idea of working with building structures, but never realized there would be so much math”). Similarly, I’ve met students for whom a career fit was excellent, but they hadn’t taken necessary steps to qualify for their intended major. Understanding what led to the demise of Plan A is essential for avoiding the failure of Plan B and the need for Plan C. Counseling services for this reexamination are available at UCCS and the Center for Academic Planning and Exploration.

In short, nobody wants to move on to Plan B. But if it becomes necessary, students should take the time needed to grieve their loss, embrace the new possibilities, and consult with campus counseling resources to make effective choices for moving on.