Meeting College Demands
While getting accepted to college is a major achievement, succeeding in college and making it to graduation is perhaps an even bigger achievement. According to a 1998 ACT study, over 25 percent of students at four-year colleges and universities drop out after their first year, and only about half the students at four-year colleges and universities graduate within five years. Our article “The Transition to College” introduces the skills and strategies that play a role in succeeding in college so that you can start planning for college when you are still in high school. Once you are in college, the issues are no longer hypothetical but an important part of your everyday life. Among the most important skills that will help you make it through college are effective time management and planning, and the knowledge of how to use college resources.
Time Management and Planning
College is notorious for being a busy time; the problem of having a full schedule is often compounded by the fact that college life tends to be unstructured. A typical day might include an 8:00 a.m. English class, a 9:30 a.m. economics class, an 11:00 a.m. meeting with one of your professors, a 1:30 p.m. Spanish class, 4:00 p.m. practice with the soccer team, and an evening shift working in the dining hall. And this doesn’t even include eating, studying, hanging out with friends, or going to meetings of clubs and organizations.
- Keep a daily planner in which you write all your commitments
- Don’t commit yourself to more courses and activities than you can handle — for instance, if you are on a sports team that competes in the fall, plan to take a lighter course load that semester and a heavier one in the spring
- Find out early what courses are required for your major and get started on them so that they don’t all pile up during your final semesters
Colleges are communities, and the more involved you are in your community, the more likely you are to stay in college and complete your degree. Several studies — such as those by Alexander Astin, UCLA professor of higher education and work in the Graduate School of Education and director of the school’s Higher Education Research Institute, and Arthur Chickering, senior associate at the New England Resource Center for Higher Education — have found that students who live on campus and are involved in school activities are more likely to graduate. Perhaps the underlying connection between campus involvement and graduation rates is that students who are more actively a part of their college community are more aware of the resources, such as those listed below, that their college has to offer.
- Academic assistance: College faculty and administration can provide academic support, while college writing centers and academic tutors can help you develop specific academic skills. Professors all have office hours, and you should not be shy about meeting with your teachers, getting to know them, and asking them any questions you have about assignments and course topics. If you have a problem with a professor, you should speak with the chair of the department or with a dean of undergraduate studies. Students and teachers who work in writing centers instruct native and nonnative students in basic composition techniques and will often be willing to read your drafts of papers and give you suggestions for revision. Tutors are also often available to help you with work in particular subjects. Sometimes a department will set you up with a tutor. Other times you may have to seek out a tutor; many tutors advertise on department bulletin boards. Study groups with other students in your courses can also be a great way to get academic assistance and support in a more informal setting.
- Residence services: Many colleges have “living-learning” programs that help you bridge the gap between your course work and your life outside of class. Although the programs differ from school to school, they tend to provide you with an opportunity to live with others who have similar interests and goals; to interact with faculty outside of the classroom; and to broaden your involvement in academic, social, and leadership activities. College residences also usually have some sort of resident advisor who can both provide information and guidance about all the subjects not covered in your regular courses (such as managing your time, coping with stress, living away from family, handling peer pressure, and dealing with health issues) as well as direct you to other campus services for more specific forms of support, assistance, or information.
- College counseling services: Mental health counselors can help you deal with emotional and psychological concerns. If you are having a tough time coping with stress, with pressures from home, or with problems in relationships, or if you feel isolated or depressed or have other personal issues that you want help working through, counselors are a great resource. Colleges generally offer free and confidential counseling to students for a set number of sessions or semesters. If you have continued counseling needs, they can refer you to off-campus counselors and psychologists.
- Health centers: The doctors and nurses at college health centers provide medical services and education. Services include treatment of illness and injury, immunizations, and diagnostic testing. Counseling and health centers often are joined or work together with the goal of maintaining students’ overall wellness. Like counseling services, all services at college health centers are confidential.
- Religious centers: Most colleges have both chaplains, to whom you can talk and from whom you can seek guidance, and religious organizations that hold services and sponsor activities. Religious centers can be a good source of support and a stabilizing influence in what can otherwise be a hectic and ungrounded environment.
- Financial resources: The financial-aid office at your school can help explain financial options for continuing to pay for college and living expenses, and for using your loan money judiciously. If you have questions about or problems with work-study, this is the place to go. Forms can be daunting, but financial-aid counselors know all the options and can introduce you to financial options you may not have previously considered.