It’s a beautiful time of year – college freshmen, aglow with a new-found independence are headed home for the holidays to spend time with family, share stories of college life, hang out with their high school buddies, and above all, relax. The holidays are a few short weeks of comfort only home can provide before heading back to campus in the new year for part two of year one of “the best four years of their lives.”
But there’s a problem with this beautiful winter wonderland picture we paint. It isn’t true for many young people.
The truth is only about 40 percent of college students graduate in four years, and only 60 percent graduate in six. This means that a lot of hope-filled students who walked onto campus last fall with high expectations are headed home for the holidays holding the gloomy realization that college isn’t the “best time of their lives” after all. It means that Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever they choose to celebrate isn’t a relaxing intermission – it’s a stressful time where they must decide if they should stay in school or drop out.
Save the Christmas carols and holiday cheer for later, for many students who do choose to dropout this time of year, it’s time to be intentional and figure out Plan B.
As someone who grew up on a college campus, I was aware of what it took to succeed academically on campus by the time I reached my 18th birthday. I knew the rigorous academic course load would be harder than high school and made sure that when I came home for Christmas, my mother wouldn’t kill me when she saw my grades – the grades that would eventually lead me to the profession that she had been saving for throughout my life.
Reality check: I’m still alive and I didn’t disappoint her, but here is where things get interesting. The students who drop out of college freshman year don’t disappoint their moms either!
Breaking news - It’s not about grades…
According to a recent Harris Poll, 62 percent of freshman reported that they were not socially or emotionally ready for college. That’s the majority, folks.
It’s fair to assume that a fair amount of the students who drop out after their first semester don’t lack the grades needed to stay in school or even keep their academic scholarships. Maybe they spent so much time preparing academically that they didn’t spend the proper time to explore what they want to use their college education to do in the world. Maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing on campus in the first place. And just maybe, the price of tuition is too much weight on their back, making them feel stuck with only one option left – to get out!
Here’s what I am trying to say to parents, friends, and families of college freshman who haven’t had the best year ever so far:
There’s a lot of gift giving during the holiday season, but this year before you give some material object that your loved one might throw away or break, start by giving them the gift of asking the right questions. Ask them why they are in school. Ask them if they are happy. Ask them if they know what they want to do and if so, do they need a degree to make it happen if school is not a supportive environment. Ask them if they would benefit by taking time off or deferring for a semester.
College is not the only way to success nor is it important to graduate in four years after high school. Don’t waste money by spending six years paying tuition just trying to get a bachelor’s degree. Spend the holiday season figuring out what’s best for you and start to plot your course of action.