Jun 15, 2011

To the Class of 2015

As GMU’s Patriot Center and other area graduation venues roll out the red carpet and polish the podium, reality is setting in for seniors transitioning from top dogs in the high school hierarchy to lowly freshman at the bottom of the college heap.

But before the ink dries on those diplomas and you sneak off for beach week in the Carolinas, I want to take advantage of one last opportunity to offer thoughts on your next great adventure.

College is THE SHOW. You've made it out of the minor leagues and into the majors. That's great, and you deserve all the credit in the world. But be warned—the transition from secondary to post-secondary education can be a little tricky.

It might surprise you to learn that the rate of college freshman dropouts is estimated at about 1 in 4. Of course this varies among institutions, and many dropouts do eventually find their way back to school.

Still, studies show that only a little over half of those entering post-secondary institutions as freshmen graduate in six years. For mom and dad about to shell out serious money, this is an alarming statistic.

And what are the most-frequently cited reasons for dropping out? The obvious ones involve academics and finances, but homesickness and too much partying also figure in. College is very different from high school, and some students simply aren’t prepared for the challenges.

To address these problems, many colleges offer transition programs over the summer or just before the start of school. If your college offers such opportunity, take it. Not only will you make friends, but you'll also learn the shortest path to the dining hall. And don’t underestimate the value of spotting a friendly face on move-in day or in the first class you attend.

If you're still concerned about the college transition, talk to friends who've been there, counselors, and your parents. We all have stories about goofy roommates and ugly rush parties. Now that you're entering the college club, maybe you can hear a few. For example, my brother-in-law's freshman roommate at Trinity College ate styrofoam cups. He didn't last long.

You might also want to hear what experts have to say. I like a webpage titled, “How is College Different from High School,” devised by SMU. And, The Professors' Guide is good because they lay things out in easy-to-grasp lists like 15 habits of top college students and 15 secrets of getting good grades in college.

Or you might want to listen to an interview with Stanford’s Dean Julie, who works almost exclusively with freshmen (scroll down the page for the recording and skip the ads at the end). Yes, the bottom line is ask for help when you need it.

The New York Times recently published a series of quotes from this year’s notable college commencement speeches which goes nicely with a column last year by Nicholas Kristof, titled “The Best Commencement Speeches Ever.” One of my personal favorites is the address given to Stanford grads by Steve Jobs, in 2005, but this year’s speeches by Arianna Huffington and Conan O’Brien may also eventually make the all-time best list.

In all of these wonderful remarks, you’ll find much good advice offered to college seniors whose numbers you will be replenishing in the fall.

But for now, enjoy your moment at the Patriot Center or Constitution Hall. Then turn the page and think of yourselves as members of the Class of 2015!

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