Students who have spent years working hard in high school often do it with one goal in mind: college. The four-year bachelor's degree has been the gold standard in terms of academic credentials for entry-level jobs in nearly every possible field. For that reason, significant pressure is placed on teachers and administrators to get students "college ready" and admitted to a four-year school. For many, however, college turns out to be something they are unprepared for socially, emotionally or academically, and they drop out.
Why Go to College?
For many students who are anticipating a life spent working, college is the first step. Gone are the days when a high school diploma was a sufficient academic achievement for entering the workforce. The bachelor's degree has become the de facto first step for young people entering the working world.
Whether you know exactly what you want to study or aren't sure yet, gaining admission to a four-year college is the goal of almost every student. For students who know that they want to specialize in the fine arts, medical science, history or psychology, there are programs and schools that can help begin that journey. For students who are still unsure of their subject of focus, a general studies program is most often the right choice.
In a general studies program, you will be exposed to many different disciplines and subject areas. This can help you discover talents and passions that you didn't know you had, or help you to realize that topics that you expected you would enjoy studying are not for you after all. For many students, the first two years of college are a time for exploring and studying things that they hadn't before. By the beginning of the junior year, many schools encourage or require students to declare a major.
Why Leave Home for College?
While it's not necessary for every student to leave home for college, most students do. In many ways, the rite of passage of leaving home to live on a college campus is embedded in the idea of going to college. A large part of college is the social aspect. In addition to working to get closer to what you want to do with your life, college helps forge independence and adult living habits.
In addition to offering unique social opportunities, living away from home in college is a good way to get more freedom, more responsibility while still in an environment structured enough to provide support when needed. For many young people, college is a very helpful step between high school and the world of adulthood. The opportunities for growth, expanding one's social circle and trying out living on one's own in a managed environment with other young people in the same life-stage can be tremendously valuable.
From a major city to a small town, exposure to different ways of life and different cultural traditions is an excellent way to broaden your horizons. Staying at home may be comforting and familiar, but pushing yourselves to try new things, meet new people and try life in a new place is when some of the most important life transformations take place. While much of college is focused on academics, some of the non-academic parts of the experience can be the most enriching and rewarding.
Three Causes of Students Dropping Out of College
However, despite all the benefits of going to college, some students arrive and find that they cannot cope with their new situation. There are a number of reasons why this might be. Teachers and administrators from all educational environments admit that a focus on getting students into college may be misplaced energy if there isn't some focus also placed on acclimating the student to college life once he or she is there.
College can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing even for the most mature and experienced student. It's often a students first time living away from home, and in many cases the first time they have been far from home in the first place. A freshman is often placed in rooms with roommates, and living with a stranger for the first time can be unsettling and sometimes stressful. It may be difficult to be separated from high school friends and thrust into a new environment.
Part of a university's job is to track the retention rate and to find out why students are leaving an institution and see if it is something in the program or the strategy. High schools are also increasingly concerned about preparing students for college to avoid having them drop out once they arrive. Three of the main reasons students drop out of college are a lack of academic preparation, struggles within a new social environment and financial challenges.
Lack of Academic Preparation
While students may be successful in their high school, that is not necessarily a measure of their ability to succeed in doing college-level work. Students who are getting As in a high school that isn't considered to be particularly academically rigorous may be very surprised at the caliber of work that's expected of them in a college environment. Even students coming out of competitive challenging high schools are often shocked at the level of work they are expected to complete.
Many freshmen in college report being shocked and surprised by their grades at the end of their first semester. While some students are able to soldier on, seek the help they need and find their footing, many others are so overwhelmed or intimidated that they drop out. High schools that are struggling to get their students into college may even pad grades or allow students to take tests more than once. This kind of massaging of the numbers may increase students likelihood of being admitted to college, but actually does them a disserve in the long run.
It can be very upsetting and even traumatic for a student to arrive at college only to find that he or she is further behind academically than any of his or her peers. Without the tether of their high school teachers and without the relationships that sustained them, students may feel that they don't belong at school and drop out.
Struggling with Life in a New Environment
If academic challenges aren't enough, entering college presents a whole host of social changes. The huge upheaval in a young person's social life is something that can overwhelm even the most well-adjusted student. Being thrown into a new social environment where they share bedrooms, bathrooms and are placed with students they don't know very well for every class can be very disorienting.
Many schools with Greek systems have competitive pledge-weeks and fraternity/sorority scenes that can make students feel that they are on the bottom rung of a social hierarchy. At the same time, fears about dating and drinking and navigating a new city can cause anxiety. Fears about adjusting to a new social circle and feelings of loneliness and isolation can cause students to drop out of college.
For many students, the cost of college can make the experience prohibitive. In addition to tuition, there is money for books and supplies, transportation, food and drink and entertainment. Some students may find themselves surrounded by very wealthy classmates while they themselves are struggling. Others may find that their work schedule doesn't allow them much time to study, which makes spending the money feel pointless.
Other students may find that their families cannot afford to send them to school, and financial aid packages change every year, which can make planning difficult. Without scholarship money, financial aid or a suitable work-study arrangement, students may be forced to drop out before graduating.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.