College administrators today face what may very easily be styled as a crisis. Recent reports indicate that as many as 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 college freshmen drop out of school. In other words, 20-25% of college freshmen do not continue on in their college careers, opting instead to attend vocational schools or seek a profession right away.
Granted, these numbers don’t reflect transfers as accurately as they ought to, but the numbers are still staggering. Why do college freshmen drop out of school? Some articles and studies cite poor college preparation classes in high school. Other suggested reasons include the idea that perhaps many of the dropouts were lazy in high school and decide they are not interested in school at all.
However, it is also very likely that the high dropout rate is caused by what freshmen do, and don’t do, in that first year of college. So in order to help freshmen in that first year of college, it can be useful to consider several things to do and avoid doing.
#1. Start small. Many college freshmen go into that first year fired up and raring to get their general education requirements out of the way so that they can move on to their major of choice. This is a big mistake, as it can lead to burn out and a quickly-building feeling of apathy and disconnection.
If you are a freshman with a large class load, you are probably finding that your social life is nonexistent. You might feel that your life consists of class time, homework, lab time and more homework. This imbalance in your life will almost certainly result in burn out showing up fast.
Starting small is also important because college classes tend to be more demanding than high school classes, and GE classes tend to be huge, so that there is less individual help available. Keep your class load small at the start and warm up to your new college life.
#2. Make friends in your classes. Making friends with classmates with whom you share classes will help you feel more connected to the class. Feeling like you are experiencing the challenging class together will help you feel more emotionally invested and connected, and your grade will probably be better as a result. This will also help you maintain the balance that has been discussed.
#3. Make and stick to a budget. This can be hard, especially for young people who have just gotten out into the world on their own. You want to flex your independence and have some fun. But financial stress will only make things more difficult. Make a budget that includes money for recreational spending and you will have a good chance at staying inside the budget and keeping your financial stress down.
#4. Find a mentor. You are Luke Skywalker and you need to find your Yoda. If your mentor is a professor, that is best. However, you can also make friends with a grad student, an academic counselor or even a lab attendant. This mentor will help you quickly learn the ropes and set the ship of your first year on an even keel.
And that is your main goal, work hard but try to keep your stress level at a minimum so that you don’t burn out too fast.
Now for some things to avoid doing.
#1. Don’t have expectations. For every major impending event, people build up a fantasy of how that event will play out. This is usually not a problem, but college is such an iconic benchmark in the life of young people that false expectations, when not met, can really cause a problem.
So watch out for expectations regarding roommates, classes, social life and more. Try to go with the flow and be proactive about making yourself comfortable in your new life. Don’t wait for your fantasy to come to pass.
#2. Don’t skip class. It might be true that plenty of people do it, but the truth is that most don’t. And the ones who don’t tend to get better grades, have to cram less, and are able to strike that balance. You don’t have to be an automaton, but you do want to get your money’s worth and stay the course.
#3. Don’t offend professors. You do not have to be a kiss-up, but stay on professors’ good sides. These professionals in academic fields are the beginning of your network. You will be turning to them for letters of recommendation later in life and you want to make and maintain a good impression. Be professional, courteous and friendly.
#4. Do your work. You might need to create a study schedule and stick to it in order to get all of your work done. This might sound lame, but remember that the vast majority of wildly successful people live goal-oriented lives. Making and sticking to a study schedule will serve your grades and future well. Keep up with your work and you won’t have to cram or go nuts catching up- which is a sure road to burn-out.
Above all, remember that college is going to be hard. It’s supposed to be. This is your opportunity to see what you are made of and to push yourself further than you’ve ever pushed. You might be surprised at how much you are capable of.