But what’s to account for this increasing trend of students not completing their college degrees? There are a number of factors that can contribute to disappointing graduation rates. It’s important for students with college on the horizon and their parents to understand these factors to increase the likelihood that the students will find an academic environment in which they can thrive for the years until graduation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common factors that can lead to students not completing their college degrees.
Some students drop out because they realize they were not prepared enough academically to complete the coursework. This can be because the college-level courses are harder than they expected. It can also be because the students are not used to working as independently and managing their time well. Time management is often cited by colleges as one of the major problems students encounter away from home and many schools offer workshops on this subject for their incoming freshmen.
Students may also find that their chosen major is incompatible with their own academic strengths. For instance, a student pursuing engineering may be much more suited to a liberal arts degree, but feel pressured for career or other reasons into a STEM major. Such a student would be far more likely to leave school than one who felt comfortable with the coursework. Aptitude and academic success are about more than just a linear scale of intelligence – different areas of study require different abilities. A person who can be a successful linguist may not be strong in math. A successful graphic artist may be weak in written expression. This is why colleges look at a student’s outside activities and where they’ve put their energies over the high school years beyond the classroom. Most students are not equally proficient in every area and it is important for students to know how to pursue careers that fit their strengths.
High school students are usually very cognizant of what their peers are focused on, in and out of school. They are sensitive to what clothes, music or activities are currently popular or represent values they hold and look to find a niche where they can fit in and feel accepted and thrive. However there can be a lot of competition, and social media has led to there being very little privacy anymore. This applies to the college process as well. Students are aware of others’ grades, scores and where they’re thinking of applying. At any one time there are the approximately ‘top 25’ colleges that are popular and where it appears everyone at their high school is applying. Students who look further afield or who are focused on colleges specializing in their areas of interest may be subject to negative comments by peers. Everyone seems to have an opinion, whether or not there is any basis in fact behind it.
There is also the pressure to get into a top-ranked school, often without understanding that colleges vary greatly and no single score can denote what would be ‘best’ for any individual student. What may be an excellent academic experience for one student may not be a good fit for another student, even with comparable grades and proposed major. In a talk Malcolm Gladwell, the well-known journalist, gave at a Google conference a couple of years ago, he spoke about the undeniable desire for people to associate themselves with an elite institution, despite the fact that a student in the lower third of their college class, even if it’s at Harvard, feels inadequate among his/her peers and has a greater chance of dropping out or changing their major. Students who were in the top third of their college class, even at schools that were not in the top tiers, had a better experience, higher self-esteem, did better at school and were more successful in their future. While initially it may raise one's self-esteem to squeak into a reach school, in terms of long-term personal experience, it may be wiser to go with a college where a student is comparably strong.
Students often want to transform themselves and see college as a way they can “become a leader” or “be a popular sorority sister” or “a star athlete”. While college can be a time of tremendous growth, creativity and opportunity both academically and socially, one has to be realistic as to who the student is at the time they enter college. They need to know their learning styles, what habits might get in the way of success at college, how they handle stress, and if they can advocate for themselves. Looking at one’s expectations is crucial to having a positive college experience.
Adjusted for inflation, the yearly tuition of the average private nonprofit four-year university in the United States has increased from $16,591 in 1990 to $31,231 in 2015, outpacing even enrollment. While the reasons for this increase are a hot topic of debate among many, it goes without saying that this additional financial burden is a major stressor for many students.
It is important that parents and students understand more than 'sticker price', the stated cost of admission. Many schools offer scholarships and grants, especially if the school has a strong endowment and wants a student for their school. There can be advantages to an out-of-region college; being a student from an underrepresented group; first in the family to go to college, or other variables. Private, more expensive colleges, often have larger endowments and can sometimes offer a financial aid package that makes it less costly to a student to go to a private, more expensive school than a state school. These can vary greatly and it is important to apply to a range of schools and be able to compare offered packages if a family needs assistance for college, as most do. There are also government grants and low interest loans for students with financial need. This is not just for lower income families. There can be assistance for many middle-class families as well, especially those with several children planning to go to college. One should check out the FAFSA calculator to see if they may be offered some financial assistance based on need.
Students drop out of college for a variety of other reasons, including personal or family troubles, mental health issues, substance use or other outside demands. A student with health or other personal issues should take care to find a school with the resources to support them. While not all variables can be avoided, their risks can be mitigated with careful planning. For these reasons, it’s important for future students not only to take responsibility for their own academic preparedness while in high school, studying and seeking extra help when needed, but also to make sure they enroll in a college program that's well-suited to their strengths and interests.
Personal growth and social life is an important part of the college experience, and a student who feels like they don’t “fit in” might be more inclined to throw in the towel. For this reason it’s important to find a college with a like-minded student body and a compatible overall environment with offered majors in the student's areas of strength and interest.
A good option for students is to work with an experienced college admissions consultant who can help find the
right fit based on their own needs. College Docs in Fairfield, CT creates personalized college action plans that not
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