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Will Your Child Be A College Freshman Success?

Posted Feb 19 2009 5:15pm

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

“Sadly, about 60% of college freshmen drop out of school,” said the counselor.

Excuse me? I sat straight up in my chair. That can’t be right.

It Was An Innocent Question

The counseling staff at my younger son’s high school had put together an informative evening presentation for parents outlining the next steps toward high school graduation and college admission. The counselors strongly recommended that sophomores and juniors start visiting colleges during Spring Break and summer vacation.

One sophomore’s parent innocently asked, ” What do you look for during a college tour if your child doesn’t have any idea yet what course of study to choose?

“The location of the campus, how many students there are, is there snow . . .”

The audience started to chuckle. Snow is a rare occurrence in Silicon Valley but many of us know about living with snow, having come from colder parts of the US.

“Don’t laugh,” said the counselor, “even our graduates drop out their Freshman year for reasons like that! Sadly, about 60% of college freshmen drop out of school although, fortunately, our school’s students seem to do better than that.”

1 in 4 College Freshmen Drop Out

Did the counselor accidentally get that statistic wrong — 60 percent drop out?

No,  but here is the rest of the story.

On the average, 1 in 4 students drop out of college their freshman year. The exact number varies widely from 1 or 2 percent at top 4 year private institutions to 50 or 60 percent at others. 2 year institutions have the worst drop out rates.

How can this be?

95 percent of entering college freshman say they are determined to graduate.

For a few, it is a mismatch (the wrong location, too much snow, difficult roommates, difficulty being away from home, culture clash, or change in career goals).  For many others, it is a lack of preparation.

According to Freshmen Attitudes: 2008 National Research Study nearly half of entering college freshmen surveyed lack confidence in their math and science skills. 33% say they have difficulty with organizing their thoughts and writing.

The reason why top colleges and universities place so much emphasis on high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses is quite logical. Students who have demonstrated they are able to do college level work in high school are highly likely to be successful in college. AP courses are college level courses.

Doing well in other high school classes, even those labeled as college prep, does not assure the student can keep up with the work in college classes. Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) at UC Berkeley found that 60 percent of community college students in California with aspirations of transferring to a 4 year school drop out freshman year. This is the statistic our high school counselor mentioned.

The Critical First Semester

Of all the factors the PACE study looked at, the most reliable predictor was taking remedial reading classes first semester of freshman year. Students who needed to attend remedial reading classes in college were 41% more likely to drop out than students who began taking general education credits which can be transferred to a 4 year institution.

The PACE study did not look at financial situation of the students. But, the  Freshmen Attitudes Survey found that 35.5 percent of the students at 2 year colleges indicated they had financial difficulties while 27.9 percent of 4 year private school students and 26.1 percent of 4 year public school students indicated financial difficulties.

When asked if they planned to work during the school year, 43.6 percent of 2 year students planned to work from 21 to over 40 hours per week while going to school compared to 23.1 percent for students in 4 year private colleges and 17 percent for students in 4 year public colleges.

No wonder so many community college students get discouraged and drop out! This is an incredibly heavy workload.

Help Your Child Become a College Freshman Success

February is nail biting month for high school seniors waiting to hear about college acceptance. Once the results are in, students and parents celebrate. The future is assured.

But, getting  accepted to college is really only the beginning. Achieving that coveted college degree hinges on what happens the first semester of the first year of college.

What can you do to help your son or daughter to succeed in college?

Plenty! Here are some suggestions based on current grade level.

High School Seniors:

  1. Make sure your teen visits the college before sending in the Intent to Enroll card. Many 4 year schools have special visiting days for newly accepted students, even overnight stays on campus.  Have your teen take advantage of those.
  2. Help your teen choose college programs and financing that will allow him to not work (or work only 10-15 hours) during the first year of college.
  3. If your daughter needs to take remedial reading or math courses that first year,  see if these courses are available during the summer. The sooner your student can begin courses with transferrable credit, the more likely she is to continue.
  4. Know what support programs are available on campus so you can suggest them to your teen when problems with roommates, etc. crop up. Colleges want their students to succeed but they are expecting the students to ask for help.

High School Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors:

  1. If you are aware that your teen needs help with reading, math or science, encourage your child to get help through tutoring at school or online.
  2. If you are not sure where your student stands in reading or math, get your teen tested and set up a plan to catch up, if needed.
  3. Participate in Scouting, Band, Chorus, Clubs, Drama, etc. to expand your teen’s skills and learn teamwork. Take advantage of trips away from home. They are the perfect “practice” for being away from home full time.
  4. Sign up for an AP class, if possible. Don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble. Have your student get help with study and time management skills to get through the class and complete the AP exam.
  5. Should your teen take more  than one AP class each year? That depends on your child’s skills and abilities. You want your student to feel challenged by the work but not overwhelmed. Use cautious judgment.
  6. Sign up for classes during the summer to work on reading, math and science. Many colleges across the US host special programs for high school students with financial aid available. Take advantage of any opportunities in your area.

Middle School Students:

  1. This is the best time to catch up if your student is not reading at grade level. If you are aware that your teen needs help with reading, math or science, encourage your child to get help through tutoring at school or online.
  2. If you are not sure where your student stands in reading or math, get your teen tested and set up a plan to catch up, if needed.
  3. What are your teen’s interests? Art, business, science, robots, video games, sports? Find low cost classes through the Y or city recreation department and have your child attend. Help your child explore skills and abilities.
  4. Participate in Scouting, Band, Chorus, Clubs, Drama, etc. to expand your teen’s skills and learn teamwork. Take advantage of trips away from home. They are the perfect “practice” for being away from home full time.

Right now, our oldest son is half way through his Sophomore year in college. He has worked his way past homesickness, a roommate  mismatch, learning to love wool socks and snow boots and mastering tough classes.

In spite of the issues, he is thriving at college. We used a number of the tips above, starting when he was in middle school, to help him succeed. Your child can too.

Click the “Share This” link below to email this post to a friend or social networking site. Thanks for reading!  Feel free to comment.

© 2009 CK Wilde. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to link to this post but you must have prior written permission (please use the comments) to reproduce this post either whole or in part.

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