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How to Overcome Executive Functioning Struggles

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor
October 29, 2022

Listen to this podcast.

Jenn’s son, Sam has been struggling with implementing and sticking with organizational systems since his 5th grade. Even though the question of whether Sam suffers from ADHD remains unsolved, one is for sure, he lacks Executive Functioning skills. Therefore, in today’s episode, Jenn is joined with Jenna Prada, the creator, and director of Private Prep's Executive Functioning Programs. Jenna shares some of her strategies for helping students to overcome common executive functioning struggles, gain motivation, and learn time management skills.

Moreover, you will learn why it is counterproductive to protect your teens from failure, when parents should reach for professional help, why do we have executive dysfunctions as adults, and how to solve them later in life. Tune in and find out more!

 “There is no kid that grows into their adult life and doesn’t need any systems. Even if you can get your way through college, adulting is hard. We all need systems.”, Jenna Prada

Full transcription of the podcast.

Intro:  You're listening to the Beyond the States podcast with Jenn Viemont. Did you know that you can go to Europe and get your entire degree taught in English for less than one year of tuition at many American schools? Jenn will take you on a deep dive into the many benefits and options around English-taught higher education in Europe, helping to make the possibility less foreign.

Jenn Viemont: Most of you have heard me talk before about my son Sam, who is about to turn 21 and is attending school in Prague. So when he was in fifth grade, he had a teacher who was really invested in him. And even though he wasn't struggling academically, she saw he was easily distracted. And she thought it was important for him to get accommodations in place through a 504 plan before he got to middle school. So he went through testing outside of school and received a diagnosis. And though his teacher and I had to fight hard because of the diagnosis of ADHD, he got a 504 plan. 

Once he got to middle school, though, he rarely used the accommodations, they really didn't speak to the struggles that he had. He tried medication on and off through middle and high school. But that really wasn't a solution for me, either. So Sam, and I currently agree that we have no idea whether he does or doesn't have ADHD. And in his situation, it really doesn't matter. What we know is that he struggles with executive functioning skills, things like implementing and sticking with the organizational systems is super hard for him. Getting started on tasks, planning, time management, study strategies, learning from mistakes, so he doesn't repeat the same ones over and over again, these are his difficulties. Having extra time on a test or taking tests in a separate room, or medication, those who aren't going to help him with these specific struggles he has. So for a while through high school, I made the mistake of being over involved trying to, you know, serve as a good executive functioning skills for him. He would call it nagging, and he wouldn't really be wrong. 

I don't know how many of you have PowerSchool Access. So basically, with Power School, it's a system set up through his school and many other school districts through the US. I could sign in at any point and see all of his grades up to date. So I would know when he didn't turn something in, I would know when he had a zero. And his school allowed students to turn late work in and they would just get points off. So instead of getting a zero, you know, if they turned it in three days late, you know, they might have an 80. So I would make them do the late work, I would look at the assignments his teachers posted and ask him if he had them done. I would ask him if he had whatever assignment was due in his backpack before he was going out the door. This was like major micromanaging, and it was a huge mistake. 

So, a lot of the guests I've spoken with on the podcast have talked about the importance of students or people just in general, experiencing failure, and how kids are currently protected from this to their own detriment. And this was a problem. I wasn't letting Sam fail. So, because he never really felt the consequences beyond the artificial ones I put in place through grounding, or you know what a brother punishment he had for not doing his work. But because he didn't feel true natural consequences, he didn't develop strategies. He also didn't really feel like developing the skills himself is important because you know what he had me taking care of it for him. 

So then he goes off to college. And not only does he not have these important skills, because I compensated for him. But he also has a false sense of confidence, because between me, micromanaging, and the school system of both grade inflation and also letting them turn in late work, he never really experienced failure academically. In fact, he graduated high school with a really strong GPA. But I should tell you, college in Europe, particularly the Netherlands is no joke. There's really not the handholding. There are resources for students to have for help. But students have to be proactive and seek these resources out themselves, which is of course another one of Sam struggles. 

Failing a class is really not rare. In fact, last year, we did a roundtable with our student ambassadors, and most of them had failed at some point since they'd been students in Europe. So Sam really did have an awakening that year when he failed a class. COVID restrictions went into place in the spring of his first year. So these restrictions are actually pretty beneficial to him because he had less social distractions, and was able to short term do what he needed to do to pass the year. So after his first year, he had some awareness that he has some deficiencies, but still not the skills. So then he goes into another year with similar difficulties along with the obstacles created by a year with COVID restrictions on your classes. It was after this year, after his second year that he finally realized or at least, he agreed to appease me, that he would get help. 

As you may know, I'm a former therapist. I'm a licensed clinical social worker not practicing, though. So I knew that we could probably get insurance to cover therapy. But I also knew that the approach like medicine or 504 accommodations really wouldn't provide him with what he needed. So I started looking into executive functioning coaches, and we found Private Prep. So Sam has an executive functioning coach, Eliza, and he works with her twice a week. Together, they have implemented strategies around studying, around planning, time management, you name it. And these aren't just, you know, the same strategies that she gives all of her clients who work with her. These are strategies that she and Sam developed together, ones that work for his own individual way of functioning. 

So, of course, we know how much executive functioning skills are needed for academics. But let's look at adult life, especially adult life living abroad. Sam moved to Prague at the end of January, when we finally got his visa in place. He'd been studying online here from home for the first semester while we got all those ducks in a row that he needed for the visa. So one of the many tasks he needs to do when he got to Prague was to open a bank account. Because, you know, those international transaction fees add up like crazy. So think about the planning involved with opening a bank account in a foreign country. First, you need to identify a bank that either has English speakers, or find someone who speaks check to go with you. And that septet task in itself takes planning, you then need to find out if you need an appointment, and if so make one. Possibly coordinating with the person who might be going with you to translate. Then you need to make sure you have all the documents, you're going to need to open the account, and also figure out how to have the money that you need to open the account. I can tell you having done this myself in Portugal is really not an easy task, even for an adult with pretty strong executive functioning skills. But it's processes like this, in addition to academic, of course, that Sam and Eliza work on together. It's not only academic success and skills, but important life skills that this is helping with.

Executive functioning skills come easily for some of us. My daughter, for instance, has been developing and implementing strategies, you know, since she could read and write. Probably before then actually, I don't even know how to sign into her PowerSchool Access, I've never needed to. But this part of the brain doesn't fully develop until people are in their mid 20s. So, some people might struggle as young adults and then be fine later in life and, you know, just develop slower. But I'll tell you, my husband is in his mid 50s. And he still struggles with executive functioning skills. When we were dating, he had a pile of unpaid bills, not because he didn't have the money, but because he didn't have a system for paying them on time. He also missed a flight once due to plan, and this is also when we're dating. He missed a flight because he didn't plan well. He didn't manage his time well, he's missed them more than once. But this particular time, we were meeting in LA for vacation. And this was, you know, before the time of cellphones. So there I am waiting for him at the gate where he's supposed to get off. I had landed before him. And I had no idea. You know, the last of the pilots ends up getting off. Tom didn't get off the flight. I had no idea when or if he would even make it there. So suffice it to say, that trip did not start out well at all. But in seeing the progress that Sam has made with Eliza, Tom's also planning to work with them as well in the coming months. I'll tell you, is it cheap? No. But it's been worth every penny. And I wish we had done this in high school. So I'm excited for you to hear from Jenna Prada today, she helped develop this program at Private Prep. So we're gonna take a quick break and come back with the interview.

Testimonial: I'm Taylor and I'm from Washington State and entering my second year of study at HU University in the Netherlands. I learned about my Beyond the States because my family originally had membership for my older sister who ended up attending a university in Prague. Even though that experience gave them a great understanding of college in Europe, my sister and I have different interests and goals, so they knew that they would return when it was time for me to check for the options.

Both me and my sister use the Best Fit List Service along with a membership. I filled out a form that had questions about things I like to do, my academic areas of interest, preference about my location, my academics, budget, and so much more. And I sent it to Jen. Jen uses information to come up with four of the best options specifically for me. This wasn't just a list with the names of schools. She gave information about things like courses in the program, the location, admissions information, and why this specific program was a great fit for me. Without this list, I may not have had this program on my radar, or found this school. The best Fit Lists will save you so much time and prevents you from making mistakes in your selection. It's super fun to explore the database, but felt less pressured after giving this list. If you're a junior, or especially if you're a senior, I highly recommend you to order the best fit list. Check out the show notes for details in a link or visit the Services Page at beyondthestates.com.

Jenn Viemont: Today, I am talking to Jenna Prada. Jenna is a New York State licensed teacher and administrator with a decade of experience working in some of New York City's most successful schools as both a teacher and administrator. Her experience and education are extensive and include tutoring, teaching, as well as work around behavioral and academic interventions for grades six through 12 at the Institute for collaborative education, where she worked with a variety of learners including those with ADHD, SLD, anxiety, and processing disorders. She had left her career with the New York City Department of Education after her first child was born and has since built a new career at Private Prep, where she is currently the director of executive functioning of special education. She has served as the Director of Tutor Experience and the Director of Tutor Development. And she is also the creator and director of their Executive Functioning Program, which has impacted my life so much and my son's life, and what we'll be talking to her about today. Jenna, thanks so much for being here.

Jenna Prada: My pleasure. I'm excited!

Jenn Viemont: So can you tell our listeners what executive functioning skills are?

Jenna Prada: Yeah, I think the easiest way to describe them is executive functioning skills are the skills we use to set goals, make plans to achieve them, and follow through. Right. And that sounds simple at first. But when you start to break it down, there's a lot involved with that. So, if we think of a student who wants to do well to eventually get into a college they're excited about, right. So, one we have to define what kind of college am I excited about? Right, then we have to say, Okay, what will it take for me to get accepted into that college? Wonderful. I'm a sophomore, that's several years away. Right? What do I have to do today to get there? I might be able to make the plan. I have lots of students who make a plan. And it's a good plan, but they have no sense of time. So when they go to execute on the plan, it kind of falls apart. And so then there's the time management piece, there's the motivation piece, there's the like, where is the thing I need to do that piece?

Jenn Viemont: Right. Resourceful then too. 

Jenna Prada: Absolutely, yeah. So we do a lot of self advocacy work with students learning to ask for help, and kind of because we need to ask for help to get the things we need, right, to follow through on our plans and reach those goals.

Jenn Viemont: Right, right. And organization.

Jenna Prada: Organization planning, we do a lot of calendaring. We also do a lot of, people don't think of prioritization in the context of information as well as tasks, right? So we do a lot of also like teaching students how to annotate or taking notes and knowing like when I leave a lecture, what were the most important ideas from that lecture?

Jenn Viemont: Interesting. So prioritizing the information you receive, not just prioritizing your day or your tasks. Interesting, interesting. And what's important and what's not.

So how do these skills just generally develop in people? And is there a time in which the development of these skills is generally achieved?

Jenna Prada: Yes, right. Generally short, right. And so I think we think of the brain as having two major growth spurts, right, it grows for a long time. So the first is when we're born up until about three, right? And you see development of some executive functioning skills at that point, right, we start to have a little bit of response inhibition, right, you start to see young children have goals, right? Like if you've ever seen the kid like fake cry to get mom's attention, they had a goal, they made a plan and they executed. Awesome for the mom. 

And then the next growth spurt in the brain happens somewhere. Numbers are scary, cause I feel like there's a parent that's listening to this that like, has a 12 year old and I’m about to say it could start at 11, and I'm gonna make them freak out. Alright. The next growth spurt starts somewhere normally between the ages of 11 and 13. It's closer to the 13th end for boys. And it can get delayed by two to three years for students who have certain developmental disorders or difficulties. So like ADHD, often results in a delay of two to three years in our prefrontal lobe development, which is where the executive functioning skills live. And then that development continues through our like mid 20s. 

Right. And so, you know, we see education respond to these different stages in different ways, right? There's a big step up, often, like in middle school, which corresponds with that 11 to 13. Start of developmental skills, right? And then it's interesting, right, because we have lots of expectations that continue to pile on for our kids through adolescence. And the reality is, no one who graduates high school has a fully developed brain. And so there's a lot of part of our job, that's also expectation setting with parents, right, and sort of just reminding them of what's developmentally appropriate, and they're still working on this and who, when they get to college. This is why college have lots of supports, because we're just not there yet.

Jenn Viemont: So basically, so they start somewhere between 11 and 15, depending on gender, depending on other challen, and continue developing until the mid 20s. So what about my husband's in his 50s and doesn't have a lot of these skills? What about that? Are they things that just sort of innately happen? Or do people need to learn these skills? How does that work?

Jenna Prada: It's a bit of both and proposition, I would say, right? So just as there's different cognitive profiles that affects the development of our prefrontal lobe, right, there's also we all have different cognitive profiles. Right. And so you said, your husband, I'll say, my husband, hopefully. He has ADHD. And we know that his brain struggles to transition, it is a fact we have the EEG data to prove it. And that just is. So hopefully what happens as you're an adult, right, is that you learn about your brain, and you've experimented with a number of strategies. And you sort of have figured out how you, as an individual, function in the world. And so I think there's a lot of trial and error to successful executive functioning skills. You know, I myself, this is what I do every year. I'm like, why don't I try this new thing? I could improve? Here's, I mean, it's a podcast. But if I turned my computer around and showed you my desk, like it's not great. And so, yeah, it's definitely a lot of learning as we go.

Jenn Viemont: You mentioned ADHD. And I'm a former therapist, I'm a licensed clinical social worker. And when you're going through some of the executive functioning skills, certainly a lot of them relate to diagnostic criteria for attention deficit disorder, can you talk about that overlap? And can a person struggle with EF skills without having attention deficit disorder, and vice versa?

Jenna Prada: I'll say this, I have never met someone who has ADHD and doesn't struggle with executive functions. Right? And it might not be every aspect of executive functioning, but focus is an executive functioning skill, response inhibition is an executive functioning skill. Right? And so, you know, referring to the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, like those are two of the big ones. And then as far as can someone struggle with executive functioning and not have a diagnosed something? Yes. Right. I mean, I think it is true, that when we get into the extremes, lots of times those difficulties in executive functioning are connected to something else, right, you think of like, an extreme of someone who can prioritize and organize like that person is a hoarder. But again, I'm not a hoarder. And I am very good at setting up an organizational system as far as my physical things, but it's difficult for me to maintain. You know, there are lots of people who just resist kind of having a to do list or using an app to support them, right? And that manifests in difficulties with executive functioning because if you're not using something to help, you keep track of your life you drop a ball you don't plan well because oh my god, there's this thing. But that's not pathological. Right? That's not anything we're going to diagnose. That's like, just get something to help yourself you can't remember it all.

Jenn Viemont: You know, it's really interesting. You say that, you know, and as our listeners know, my son uses your services not directly with you, but one of your coaches and it's so interesting how having that accountability and hearing from it, someone who's not his mother has impacted him. I mean, I assure you, I have talked to him about tools and resources until he's ready to rip his ears off. But then Eliza, his coach, is like why don’t you try this. And he's like, Yeah, that's a great idea. And then having to go into the call next week and say, Yeah, you know, I did try this. And here it is. It's really incredible, the impact that can have.

Jenna Prada: Yeah, I think it's interesting. That's so true. That observation of kind of just the value sometimes of a different human. Yeah, that's real. Right? And I think, you know, when kids are growing up, there's so much we're telling them as parents, my kids are young, I've got a five year old and an eight year old. Right? And I can imagine, like, by the time, they're 12, or 13, they need to start managing themselves more like, they're pretty sick of hearing my voice telling them what to do, and giving them ideas. Right, and so just a different person has a lot of value.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. And someone who is seen, you know, I mean, my kids don't see me as an expert in much. You know? And I think that's normal. And Sam's growing out of that. So I'm, he's 20, my daughter's 17. And I still know nothing, according to her, you know, as somebody who can be seen as an expert in an area.

Jenna Prada: Yeah. And I think somebody who just has, you know, there's so much out there, right. Like, I’ll meet with a kid and sort of have in my head, like, oh, this is the planner this kid needs, right? Because we're all very individual and what our needs are, right, and what our strengths are. And I can still go down like the planner rabbit hole for literally hours. And so you know, our executive functioning coaches have a list of like, here's our 20 favorite planners and why.

Jenn Viemont: Oh, that's awesome. That's awesome!

Jenna Prada: Right. So like, I think there's also just like, you don't have time for that. Right? So it's, you like, you could do it. But not everyone needs to have a list of 20 planners.

Jenn Viemont: Right? Absolutely. So how do you, with Sam was pretty clear cut for us, you know, he through high school, he was able to coast by even without strong executive functioning skills, he could, you know, blow off a class all semester, and then make it up at the end, you know, with makeup work and extra credit and still get good grades. And so he could function without these skills and did well in high school. And then when he got to college, it was especially college in Europe, where the hand holding is not there, the grade inflation is not there. And the expectations are high. He really, it was genuinely hard for him which high school wasn't. And so it was very clear for us and for him at that point. Okay, now I need some different systems. So because it was such a struggle, it was clear to everyone. But how can a parent know, especially when kids are in high school and can squeak by?

Jenna Prada: Kids make me nervous. 

Jenn Viemont: Totally, totally. So how can they know whether okay, you know what, they're fine, they'll be fine when they get to college, or we should get some systems in place, and maybe some assistance with this now?

Jenna Prada: I mean, okay, I'm gonna give like, two answers. Doing it. Yeah, totally. My answer is, first and foremost, like, if they don't have systems that you or they can identify, they need them. Right, right. There is no kid that grows into their adult life and doesn't need any systems. Right? Now convincing the kid of that, different story. Right, but you know, we're actually now I've got a couple kids, kids, clients, adults, it's interesting that I'm working with, who are transitioning from college to work. Oh, right. So like, even if you can grit your way through college, adulting is hard, is what one of the kids said to me. And I was like, that is true. So you know, that's like the cop out answer is we all need these systems. If you think of yourself, I'm sure you have a system right? Like your calendar sent me a number of automated reminders that I'm sure you set up. And then the less cop out right the like, How can I tell if my kid’s actually not doing very well because of this or if this is the thing that's underpinning the struggles I see across the board. Right. I think that's what the question you actually wanted me to answer. 

The way we think about it at Private Prep is if someone comes to us and they say, I'm having trouble in, and they can name a subject area. Right? What they need is a subject tutor. Right? But when a parent calls us and says, I need a Spanish tutor, and a Bio tutor, and a Math tutor, and also someone who can write essays, our first thought is like, probably you need an executive functioning coach, right? Because most students don't have real content knowledge gaps across the gamut of subjects. And also, most students don't have like, five teachers who aren't able to teach. Right? And so it tends to be sort of the foundational organizational executive functioning skills that are lacking if you feel like you're struggling across the board.

Jenn Viemont: I love actually, the first answer you gave, I love how you talked about if they can't identify a system, then there's a problem, you know, and how that's for life, too. And I liked how you talked about that going into careers, students in Europe have so many more life skills that they need systems for than students in the US, because you do have to worry about getting your visa and getting your residence permit. And you get there my son's about to leave for the Czech Republic. Hopefully, if his visa gets here before next week, we're still waiting on that. But even with that, he had to have the skills to call the embassy. And then today, he had to call the Ministry of the Interior in the Czech Republic. So he had to set his alarm, he had think about the time difference, you know, all of those skills needed around these life skills that students in the US don't need. And again, it was, I started thinking before his last call of the Lysa about a number of these things like oh, he needs to see if the student residents come through a sheet so we can order sheets. And I started thinking about all this. And I said, instead of going through this with him, because I would get a I know mom, you know, a good mom. I was like, hey, why don’t you talk to Eliza about this? Right, absolutely. Where they can create a system. But maybe that's also the question that parents asked students because I think even, you know, a college age, they can be so resistant to help, or even admitting deficiencies or things like that. Maybe that's the question. Okay. What's your system then? Tell me your system.

Jenna Prada: Yeah, no. That's what I advise parents to do is just ask questions. Right, as opposed to providing solutions. One, because asking the question seems to be less annoying. Right? To the kid. Two, maybe they have an answer that you just don't know, right. And that's an exciting outcome. Right? And Three, the very process of asking the questions, helps them develop their metacognitive skills.

Jenn Viemont: Yes. Oh, see, I was so sick of me saying metacognition, I said that probably every day to him last year. Yes. Yes, I agree. Can you tell?

Jenna Prada: Yeah. Right. And it's just more effective. And it’s harder, I get it, it's harder. Because if you're, you know, we go back to your like, are there sheets in the residency? Like, it is possibly easier for you to just look that up and tell him, “hey, buddy, you need sheets,” than it is to ask the question that gets him to think “do I need sheets” and then get him to follow through. Right? If we want kids who have these systems, we have to resist the impulse to solve the problems for them or to anticipate for them. And that requires a certain level of comfort with like, small failures. Right? Like my suggestion isn't let your kid fail out of high school or let them fail out of college, right? Or, I often try to convince parents like look, if they miss a homework, because they didn't plan well enough or because they forgot it or, like, that's okay.

Jenn Viemont: Right? And they get a bare mattress

Jenna Prada: And they end up in the college where they will feel successful, right? Or even like with my kids, you know, like they've got their checklist. And if my son forgets a snack, like he gets whatever the school gets him he's not gonna die. Right? He's just gonna, like get a little less and that's okay.

Jenn Viemont: Right, right, which is what metacognition is, it's learning your son, it would be like your son learning, “Oh, I didn't like the school snack because I forgot to pack mine.” And then so next time, he remembers to. He learns from that mistake,

Jenna Prada: Right, and he's able to reflect on potentially again, we're asking a lot, he's five, but you know, an older kid who kind of has a similar experience is able to reflect on what led to me forgetting that snack. Right? Perhaps I need to, I do need to wake up five minutes earlier when my alarm goes off, because once I'm rushing, probably I forget all of that, as opposed to you being like you're rushing, you're gonna forget something I told you to get up earlier. Right? Like the experience leads them hopefully, to that same conclusion. And it feels like their own conclusion, it feels real. And it produces action in a way that us telling them the answer does not.

Jenn Viemont: I think that's a real I know, it's a struggle for me as a parent of a 20 year old, who struggles with executive functioning because of metacognition is not as strong as you hoped it would be. Because again, that's one of the executive functioning skills that's deficient. So it's sort of like this learned behavior as a parent that I have to fight the instinct. Because he won't learn that you won't learn as quickly. He will learn. He won't learn as quickly as other students who have the metacognition. “Oh, when I do this, it leads to a negative outcome. So I'm going to do things differently this time.” It takes like, 10 different times of doing this before the change we made, which can be really hard to see as a parent.

Jenna Prada: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I'm not gonna. That was possible. I think so. Right. So what can we do? I guess, becomes the question then, right. Like, how can we as parents feel like we're not totally impotent in this situation? And one of the things that we do as executive functioning coaches that parents can also absolutely do, is to help kids develop what I call metacognitive scripts. Right? And so you know, your son very well, right. And all parents know their children quite well, right? And so we kind of know, where are the places that are recurring struggles. And if you can have a series of questions, that is the same series every time and just kind of ask that, like, “hey, what do you have coming up this week?” “Did you check this place? And also this place?” Right? “What are the three most difficult things? And how are you planning them out?” Again, maybe that's not your kid script, right? But those are useful questions. And you just ask those over and over, what happens is the repetition of the same questions in the same order becomes something that your kid will generalize across their life, not because they want to necessarily, right, like they're not making a conscious decision, like, “Oh, mom's asking me these really great questions, I will do the same,” but it just happens. Right?

And so that's also a lot of the value of executive functioning, coaching, right, as a lot of times, we'll meet with kids three times a week for 15 minutes. And it really is, we just have set goals together. And we know what the obstacles are to those goals. And so we ask questions, each time we see the kid that address those obstacles, and prompt the kid to reflect on those things. Right? Because the other piece of metacognition, right, and the learning is that, as a society, we're so busy, right? And then when we're not busy, we're so absorbed in our phones, that there's not the quiet time where we naturally shift into reflecting. Right? 

Like, if you're in the supermarket line, you know, and you're just standing there bored, because you forgot your phone somewhere. Probably what starts to happen is you think about what's going well, this week, what do I have coming up? What do I need to be keeping track of? What's that thing that occurred? Right? But that doesn't happen. Because you've got your phone, not you whoever, right? And we take it out, what's on the news? Did I get an email? Can I respond to that text? And so, and even more so for kids writing or doing the social piece, and so, just doing something to create the space to reflect, right? And again, if it's not with an executive functioning coach and realize it's a hard ask, so many things are hard ask, right? Like if as a family, I tell people, like if you plan parent, like set up a weekly planning time where like, everyone sits at the kitchen table, and you just sort of look at what's coming up. Right? Or just like, make a family habit of every night. Hey, what do we all have going on tomorrow? How can we help each other? Right, and sort of subtly infusing the space for reflection and planning and metacognition.

Jenn Viemont: And those are things that especially if you start young, it just becomes part of the kid's routine. I could see having teenagers being resistant to an implementation of a weekly planning. But you know, for me, it's what's been so great for me is that, you know, in the beginning, I couldn't see I'm sort of working with Eliza this semester, you know, we did the intake together, and I said, very clear, I want this to be you guys just thing. I'm stepping out, you know, he's almost 21 years old, this is here. But because I'm the parent, because I'm paying, I do get little summaries. Say get little summaries of just vaguely what they worked on nothing, you know, and it's not therapy, it's, you know, just we worked on this. And so in the beginning, I would get stressed about something that I didn't feel like was on his radar and touch utilize a little message, you know, saying, “hey, just so you know,” you know, and what I love seeing is now there'll be something that I was worried about, not the sheets, he's not talked about the sheets in the Student Residence yet. But there'll be something that I'm worried that isn't on his radar, but I'm not responding to her, you know, not sending it to her. And then I see on the summary, oh, we talked about, you know, what he needs to do to get ready to go to Prague. And so it's, it's really nice to see that developing. And for me to be able to unlearn some of those behaviors that I learned over these years as well, that haven't been necessarily good for him. But I wonder, I think about my daughter, who is very much like me, like checklists, and systems, and all of that are definitely a part of how she works. Even at a young age, you know, she'd made a little checklist for herself. And that's how she would remember what to do around the day. And then of course, there's Sam, who really struggles in these areas. And so I wonder, why does it just come sort of naturally easier for some people, and harder for others? Like, are there certain factors, or gender, or groups of people, or that are more inclined to struggle with these skills than others? 

Jenna Prada: So it's interesting, I have some answers to this, we are approaching the end of my scope, right? Because when we start getting into like, brain structure, now we're talking like, neuroscience and neuropsychology. But it happens that I work very closely with some neuropsychologists. So I'm gonna say the things I'm confident in, and then I'm gonna be done. Okay. That's podcasts, you'll have another psychologist. 

So women do have more, on you're gonna see, I don't even know the technical words, right? I just have the like, understanding, there's a type of tissue that is connected between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which facilitates executive functioning, right, because executive functioning is very much about this part of the brain communicating with that part of the brain, and where's the knowledge and we pull it here? And so women have more of that connective tissue? Interesting, right? Like that is true. And then outside of that, right, we come into, again, the cognitive profiles, right? And so if you do a functional EEG, on a number of people, right, you'll see that different people have different parts of their brain that are hyperactive, or they're less active, or they have more beta rays, or more gamma waves, right. And those things, all impact. Right. And so that is the end.

Jenn Viemont: Okay. I did that! That's probably as much as I would have been able to understand anyway. So that's a good thing. So you work with different ages of students? What are the executive functioning skills that are particularly important for college students to have?

Jenna Prada: All of them. I think, so with college, I don't know that it becomes more important, it just becomes the one that has the biggest transition, I'll say, in most cases is the time management piece. Right? Because in high school, their lives are so incredibly structured, right? Like they're in the school building for seven hours, six hours, right? There's the travel to and from most years. It's funny that we need that caveat now. Right? Many of them have a club or a sport. And the homework for the most part is pretty short term. Right? Like there's a test coming up every once in a while there's a paper but mostly, it's like this was assigned on Monday. It's due on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday. Right, but you get to college, and the majority of the time is unstructured. And the majority of the assignments are over several weeks with very little check ins in between. And so kids, just while they're as many are able to break down the steps of an essay, but they don't have a concept really, of how long does that take them to do. Right? Or they're like, “oh, I have a reading.” And I'm like, Well, did you look at how many pages like how many hours a week like when I asked the college? Can how many hours a week do you think we need to put on your I like to make an ideal schedule? So we put their classes in, you go to class, right? That's non negotiable. I almost dropped my coffee. I don’t know why I hooted there. And then I’ll ask them, “Okay, so we should put in some study time, agreed? It's College. How many hours do you think you need in a week?” And a lot will be like, “four.” I felt like, “I don't think that's enough.” Right? And so to kind of work with them, right? Because if I say, like, closer to 20, right, that then we're back at like, I gave them the answer, right? And they think it's four. So maybe they'll do six. But if I put 20 on their calendar, they aren't showing up for that. Right? And so that conversation, right, like the bridging and the really understanding the time piece.

Jenn Viemont: You know, it's interesting, in Europe, the credit system is very different. So you know, in the US college credits are based on how many hours you spend in the classroom. So usually full time is 12 to 15 hours. In Europe. The credit system is such that it accounts for the hours you're supposed to spend on the class in and outside of the classroom. The full time is 30. So that kind of sets the expectation there to Okay, let's see, if I'm in class for 10 hours a week, that means that they're expecting me to do 20 hours of studying a week, most students will think that's crazy. So even if that means that they're doing 10, you know, then then it's, I like that system. I think it sets the expectation well.

Jenna Prada: I just want throw out just because it’s my favorite college tip, which is it, it supports this, it's not a time management tip, which is why it didn't come out that other answer, if anyone is listening to this, and they're going to set up that study time, I highly encourage breaking it into like, daily study time. This is the reading that's due for next class, this is the thing I have to give to my professor this week, and long term study time, right? And distinguishing that so that you don't get behind the eight ball, right. And so during that long term time, you know, even if the paper is not due for three weeks, you better be at the library working on it, right? If there's, you know, midterms or eight weeks away, at the start of the semester, you better be reviewing your notes, really naming the time to not lose track of that longer term piece. It’s huge.

Jenn Viemont: That's really interesting, because it could go to either or extreme. You can either focus too much on the short term, or focus too much on the long term. And they're both so important in college. So I think you provided a good understanding of how executive functioning coaching is different than content tutoring. How is it different from therapy?

Jenna Prada: Oh, yeah, this is when we talk about a lie, as a team, because kids will come with things where like, “Oh, that's not for me,” And so the easiest way for us to distinguish and it still gets gray, if I'm being honest, is we are always looking forward. Right? So we're not trying to resolve traumas from the past, we might ask what happened this week? But the follow up question is “And what do we learn from that to go forward?” Right. And so someone and I wish I could give them credit. And I can't remember who this is not my metaphor, okay. Talks about executive functioning coaching, if you're driving a car as always working looking out the windshield, and therapy is looking out the rearview mirror.

Jenn Viemont: That makes sense, that makes sense. And I think it speaks to the outcomes, then, you know, the outcome is goal oriented. It's not necessarily just insight, its action, you know, you're going to have this insight, but what are you got to do with it? Very interesting. So, if someone's looking for help, and I know there's so many people, you know, I just have been talking about Sam on our podcasts and blogs for many, many years. And as he hates but, um, so I'll get a lot of parents who contact me who are like, Oh my gosh, you know, Sam totally reminds me of my kid and some of the struggles he has, or some of the interests he has, or some of the goals he has, whatever. So, I have met a lot of parents who have kids going to college in Europe who are concerned about the executive functioning piece of things and their students. So if someone is looking for executive functioning help, I know there are tons of services out there. I personally weeded through many myself before I found you guys. What is it that people should look for in a company that offers these services or in an individual that offers this coaching?

Jenna Prada: Yeah, so I think I would say the big long, two things actually not the biggest one is that their approach is fully individualized. There's definitely a lot of companies and a lot of individuals that sort of have the like, my name system. And I think, you know, again, if we surveyed a bunch of successful adults, we all have a different system. And so to try and pose something, pre-fabbed on our kids seems not the right way to go to me. And so I would ask about that. 

And then I think the other thing is to just ask about the background. Look, and I think there are lots of backgrounds that can be appropriate. But executive functioning, coaching is not a regulated thing, right? There are certifications, but it's like a random company over here, you pay them $1,000 certification, right? So even saying like, I'm a certified executive functioning coach, my response is like, I don't know what that means. Right? So I think, to my mind, kinds of people that make sense as executive functioning coaches, educators make sense. If you have a student that has a learning disability, or ADHD, or any of those things, you might ask specifically about the coach's comfort level or experience with working with other people who have those same struggles. We actually have a couple of people on our team whose background is in social work. And I think sometimes that makes sense, right? We reorient again to the future orientation. But that background sometimes makes sense. Those to me are the main sort of flows into it right? And I've said social work, I could have said therapy, right.

Jenn Viemont: No, and I really liked what you said about the individualized approach. Because a system that sounds crazy to me, might really work for somebody else. And if it works, and who cares if I think it sounds crazy.

Jenna Prada: Yeah, I think that's the thing, right? And I think that's a huge message too for parents, right? And I struggle with this, like, I preach this all day. And then my kids do something, I'm like, No, you have to do it my way. But I tell people to really think about focus on the function, right? So like, kids don't need a planner, they need a way to know what's coming up. Right? They don't need an organized desk, right? They need to be able to find their things, right. So what's the function? And that's what we really need to focus on. I have one student and this is like, how much I'm like, whatever function he literally uses as his planner, a post it notepad, and I was like, “This is the worst idea.” They're gonna tear off in your pocket. They're gonna be all over the place. But I was like, well, let them try, right? Like, if it works wonderful. And he thought of it, and if it doesn’t, like he will very quickly see that, and it works. So he writes on a post it note, and he tears off the post it note at night, and transfers anything to the next post it note, and this is what he does. 

Jenn Viemont: It's a system. It's a system. And that's what you said, do they have a system? He has a system.

Jenna Prada: He has a system. Yeah. Exactly. So function and it functions.

Jenn Viemont: Right. Very interesting. So I think it's really about this was something I talked a lot about, in terms of just students exploring different options for colleges, and in Europe and the US and anywhere in the world. It's just about recognizing that there's not one bright path for everyone. There's not one right system for everyone. There's also not one thing that comes naturally to everyone. And I truly believe that if there are people in place, if there are services in place, like you guys, or like what we do that can, you know, cut down to trial and error that can you know, give that list of 20 planners that you've researched, or provide systems in place or provide information about college in Europe, or you know, you take your mechanic, you take your car to a mechanic because they have information about your car and how it can run properly. And, you know, there are so many resources in the world that we use, and then many that we don't either know about, or that we don't know how they work. And so I'm just really excited that you were here today to tell us about this great resource that you guys provide. And like I said, it's been just a real game changer in our house, and I appreciate everything you guys do.

Jenna Prada: Amazing. Thanks so much for having me. I had fun. 

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely.

I'm really excited to tell you about the March Special of the month, because it's something we've never offered before. The Quickstart Package puts all the resources you need right at your fingertips, and it offers a savings of $300. 

The first thing it comes with is our membership. So this includes access to our searchable database, monthly recordings that answer questions that you submit, our incredible Facebook number group, and a host of other members only webinars and resources. 

Then we're adding in all five of our self paced courses. There's a course on choosing a major, one was step by step processes to find the best school for you. One about schools in the Netherlands. One about business programs all across Europe. And another about the admissions process. We're also providing you with a digital copy of the book I wrote in 2018, which highlights 13 different universities in Europe. 

The next two inclusions are what I'm most excited to tell you about. We've compiled a new resource that's only offered here. It’s called the European College Review. This reference pulls all of the important information you need in one place. This includes important blogs, quick tips, collection of the blogs, all the blogs I've written on school visits, as well as all of the past deep dives I've provided through programs of the month. So, those are a lot of DIY resources. But this is not just a DIY package because it also comes with a 30 minute consultation with me. Purchased separately, this package would cost $529, but today we are offering it for $229 for this month actually. Due to my own availability though, we have to limit this to the first 10 subscribers. So you can find the information about this offer in our show notes or you can go to beyondthestates.com/monthlyspecial.

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor

5 Reasons Why You Should Study in Europe

If packing up your whole life and moving sounds more exciting than terrifying, then you'll love what colleges in Europe have to offer you. These are 5 reasons why going to college in Europe will be the best decision you'll ever make:

1. Tuition is much more affordable than the US.

In continental Europe, the average cost of all the English-taught bachelor’s programs is just $7,390 per year. Since 1985, US college costs have surged by about 1000 percent, and tuition and fees continue to rise. Even when you factor in the cost of travel, going to college in Europe if often cheaper than one year of tuition at a state college in the US.

2. There are thousands of English-taught degrees.

Choice is another key issue. When cost is a chief consideration, you may be limited to only in-state schools, where tuition is lower. What if your in-state schools aren’t a good option for your chosen field of study? In Europe there are thousands of programs to choose from across 212 areas of study, and they are all taught 100% in English, so there's no need to worry about learning a new language.

3. International exposure is essential and highly valued.

Students who studied abroad stand out from the crowd when seeking jobs after college. The very act of leaving their comfort zone to make a fresh start in a new place builds skills and confidence that will be carried throughout a student’s life. Silicon Valley billionaire investor, Chris Sacca, describes international study experience as a critical differentiating characteristic among candidates. According to former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of [General Electric] will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires.”

4. You'll avoid the US admissions rat race.

The college admissions process in the US has become a race to the bottom as students compete with their peers for a single spot in a liberal arts college, convinced by parents and guidance counselors that their survival rests on playing a musical instrument or varsity sport.Many smart kids don’t do well on standardized tests. This doesn’t limit them as much when looking outside of the US, as many colleges in Europe do not require standardized tests. Many countries see entry into universities as a right, rather than a privilege, so admission standards are not as stringent.

5. Spend your weekends & breaks exploring the world.

Travel opportunities abound when attending college in Europe. For example, Lille, a city in northern France with multiple universities, is close to major cities such as Brussels, London, and Paris via high-speed rail. Air travel, especially with the rise of affordable airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Transavia, can be comparable in price to rail travel, so many more destinations open up for short-term travel.

How to Get Into the World's Top Universities

When you also factor in the many problems with US higher education, it is imprudent not to consider other possibilities. It is true there are many excellent schools in the United States—I don’t think anyone would argue that. There are some that have managed to look at applicants as people, and not just a checklist of achievements. Some even have reasonable tuition rates, and/or professors that actively teach and have highly engaged students. Despite this, I have yet to find a school in the United States that addresses all of these issues: allows students to opt out of the rat race the admissions process has become, have reasonable tuition, AND have positive results around the educational experience and post-graduation outcomes. Not every school in Europe provides all this either, but the schools listed in our database do.

How to Find Degrees in Europe That Are Taught in English

Finding these programs is burdensome, difficult, and confusing, especially with institutional websites in foreign languages... We know that making the decision to study abroad can be difficult, so we want to make it easy for you. We scoured the continent for vetted programs and made them available to thousands of families looking to leave the US and find a better life in Europe. We found over 11,200 degrees, 870 universities, 550 cities, and 32 European countries to choose from. Europe offers an impressive range of educational opportunities!

We have gathered all of the information you need to know about studying in Europe – from the different types of schools available to how to get housing and everything in between. Our database helps you find these programs quickly and easily, helping you contextualize the many benefits and options around higher education in Europe.

You will be able to find programs and courses that suit your interests and needs, taught in English by experienced professors in state-of-the-art facilities. Purchase a membership and search our database of English-taught European bachelor's and master's programs to get started on your journey to Europe today.

Get a Free Insider's Guide

We created free guides that give you the skinny on 5 bachelor’s or 10 master's degree programs in Europe that are taught in English, uber affordable, easy to get into, are great for opportunities, and give you life-changing experiences.

Guide

To explore more countries, cities, and all of the universities, get access to the full database and search through over 11,200 programs taught entirely in English. You're bound to find your ideal program.

Beyond the States matches you with your ideal English-taught college in Europe.

Beyond the States provides access to 11,400+ European bachelor's and master's programs across 870 universities, 550 cities, and 212 areas of study, plus all the resources you need to get there. No sponsorships. No bias.
3400+
English-taught bachelor's programs in our database.
8000+
English-taught master's programs in our database.
550
Beautiful European cities to choose from.
870
Top-tier universities accepting international students.
€293,558
Typical savings against a private university in the US.
€55,098
Typical savings against in-state tuition in the US.
All inclusive of tuition, living, food, books, health insurance, travel expenses, as well as hidden fees. Compiled with data from students and the official websites from KU Leuven, UNC, and Duke.

Listen to the College Insights™ Podcast

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What Transparent Admissions Requirements Really Mean

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
It’s that time of year again… College admissions are on the minds of many students who have attempted to get into their choice schools across the US; it can be a deeply confusing and stressful time for many.
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Master's Degrees in Europe for International Students

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Her conversation partner this week is Sean Dempsey, a past BTS member and recent graduate of the highly-ranked KU Leuven, in Belgium.
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Will a European Degree Work for Me in the US?

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Is a degree from Europe valuable enough in the US? Does it allow students to get into grad school and get a good job? Who gives accreditation to universities in the States?
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How to Get a Master's Degree in Europe

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
In today’s episode, Jenn has an interesting discussion with Tiffany, a parent of one of our members, Ethan. She became so interested in the Beyond the States process herself so that she’s amid planning admission for herself and her husband – for a Master degree program in the EU!
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Avoid the Pitfalls of College Rankings

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
How useful are college rankings actually? What do they measure? Can you find great colleges in Europe without relying on rankings?
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The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
We're going to be talking about the differences in the educational experience, meaning the academic side of things that students have in Europe versus in the US. So I'm always taken aback when people assume that universities in the US are the best globally.

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