The United States has a respectable college enrollment rate—in fact, it’s whopping 70 percent. We can be proud of that. But here’s a startling fact: more than 30 percent of those students will drop out after their first year. That means one third of the people who start on their post-secondary education don’t make it to their sophomore year. We should be concerned about that.
What do these statistics tell us? I interpret it this way: Our society does a great job of encouraging young people to enroll in college or university after high school. It’s of high importance, or else so many people wouldn’t choose this path. However, somewhere, somehow, something is going awry. Are students not receiving the preparation they need to succeed at independent living? Is the “college or bust” message dissuading students from better fitting alternatives? Is school too expensive? Do students feel unimportant and unvalued in their larger classes (small fish in a big pond effect)? Are students making choices that derail their educational career?
It’s likely a combination of all of the above, but today I want to talk about choices—specifically, those that prematurely end college careers. Derailers come in many forms, so we encourage you to discuss these with your student(s) before they land on campus:
- So much freedom, so soon! Although academics and a future career are the core reasons for attending college, other (more) appealing activities abound! Use your newfound freedom to become a wise manager of your time and priorities. Sure, it’s great to stay up as late as you want,, but remember the choices you make with your recent autonomy will affect your class attendance, your overall academic experience, and even your financial aid package. Put simply: Don’t skip class! Similarly, be wise when making your social, recreational, and activity choices. The party scene and all it’s trappings can easily be the beginning of a very slippery slope. Remember, studies are the top priority—your “job” so to speak. The rest is frosting on the cake.
- Financial irresponsibility. I’ll never forget what it felt like to check my bank account when I was in college. It wasn’t unheard of to only have 50, 25, or even 10 dollars in there. Frivolous spending on unnecessary eating-out, coffee, clothes, or entertainment could have seriously de-railed my entire college education. If you’re in a similar boat, keep your end goal in mind to help you curb the temptation to spend. Remember, if you save now and focus on school, you’ll reap the benefits later. Budgeting and self discipline make all the difference.
- Poor study habits. College is harder and more competitive than high school. There are longer papers, more intense exams, and higher expectations. Discipline and focus are key if you want to succeed (and make it to graduation!). Manage your time wisely, create a study planner, and don’t participate in “extra” activities until all of your homework and studying are complete. (If you’re looking for more advice on creating good study disciplines, we devote an entire chapter to it in What I Wish I Knew at 18. You can buy the book here.)
- Surrounding yourself with the wrong people. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positive influences during this time in your life. Hanging out with the wrong crowd can hinder your success in a variety of ways (and just because you’re not in high school anymore doesn’t mean you’re immune to peer-pressure!). Creating lasting friendships with like-minded people can take time and effort, so be patient and know you may need to put yourself in new environments in order to make new friends. Think “positivity” in everything you do and everyone you are with!
I hope this advice—coming from someone not too far removed from the college experience—can help you prepare your student for what’s ahead. And, if you need one more statistic to show what’s at stake, I’ll leave you with this: college dropouts make one million dollars less over the span of their careers than individuals with degrees!*
Success in college comes from knowing what to do and what de-railers to avoid. By discussing these before the fact, we can improve our graduation rates and the futures of our next generation.
*Source: “The Economic Value of College Majors,” by Georgetown University Center on Education and The Workforce. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf