As many students receive their college acceptance letters over the next few weeks, make sure to set aside some time to have that talk. Not that talk, the other one. The one about dropping out. A 2013 American Dream 2.0 report likened the college drop out rate to a national epidemic because 46% of students who enroll in a college or university don’t graduate with any credentials in six years.
There are many reasons why students drop out (finances usually tops the list) or they find themselves unable to complete their degree. On the first day of class in my freshmen year, one of my professors told us to look to the left, and then look to the right. “One of you will not graduate,” he said. Little did I know I would be the “one.”
It was October of my sophomore year at Rutgers when I decided I wasn’t going back. This was not a well thought out plan by any means, more so of a hasty decision made by an impulsive 18-year-old who hadn’t studied for an exam. I knew I would fail so for some reason it made more sense to just…quit. Yeah, apparently taking the F wasn’t an option.
Now, I cringe when I think about the money my parents lost in tuition and am quite surprised I wasn’t disowned. After working in the real world I realized there was no way I could make it on my own, I decided to go back to school. What really sealed the deal for me was an article about Tina Brown at Vanity Fair and how much freelance writers earned. An aha! moment happened, for the first time, I actually saw myself in a career and there was a path I could take. As much as I loved to read and write, no one had ever suggested I pursue a career as a writer. Go figure…
High school students today have amazing opportunities to explore prospective careers through volunteer opportunities, internships and just researching on the internet. Talking to our kids about their interests and career goals helps them to understand how college will get them to their dream job. Parents have to have these conversations with their kids because the national ratio of college counselors to high school students is 478 to 1.
While counselors and parents provide a great support system to help get the student into college, maintaining those support systems are also important once they’re on campus. I made the mistake of living off-campus as a sophomore. Heady with my newfound power of being an adult once I turned 18, I canceled my dorm housing (without telling my parents first) because I wanted to share an apartment with a friend. Being away from campus made it that much easier to feel disconnected from the university and its support system of RAs and classmates. I was living with two graduate students and a friend who was not a student.
Don’t get me wrong, when I went back to school full-time at USC (where I received a BA in print journalism), I didn’t live on campus, but I was in my 20s and laser focused because I was paying the bills and couldn’t afford to retake a class. At 18 though, it was clearly too much freedom for me.
Returning to school and having to pay for it, made me take responsibility for my education. When I first attended Rutgers, my parent paid for everything and the only thing I had to do was get good grades. I had no idea how much it cost or the ramifications of what would happen with me leaving mid-semester.
Having that conversation about the cost of college, how it’s being paid for and making your student responsible for getting a certain amount of scholarships or working a part-time job gives them skin in the game and makes them a partner in their educational pursuits.
It’s not enough to say, “Go to college and get a degree.” We have to help students develop a road map for what life could be like after college.
If you could go back to school what you do differently? Change your major? Study abroad for a semester? Start the dialogue with your kids now and save them from a mid-life crisis later.
Sibylla Nash, founder of College Prepped, is an author and creativity coach.