Jun 16, 2014

To the Class of 2018

As the Patriot Center and other area graduation venues roll out the red carpet and begin the countdown to ceremonies scheduled years in advance, 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 well-earned diplomas and you sneak off for beach week in the Carolinas, allow me to offer a few 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 as many as one in three first-year college students don’t make it back for their sophomore year. Of course this varies by institution, and many dropouts eventually do find their way back to school.

Still, studies show that only about 59 percent of those entering 4-year post-secondary institutions as freshmen graduate in six years. Four-year graduation rates are almost unspeakable.  And for mom and dad about to shell out serious money, this is alarming.

So what are the most-frequently cited reasons for dropping out

Obvious ones involve finances and academics. Sometimes homesickness or too much partying figures in. But sadly, failure to engage with the campus community and refusal to quit obsessively communicating with friends from home also contribute. 

College is very different from high school, and some students aren’t prepared for the challenges—organizational, academic, and social.

To address these problems, colleges offer freshman transition programs over the summer or just before the start of school. If your college offers such an opportunity, go for 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 an over-sized lecture hall.

If you're still concerned about the college transition, talk to friends who've been there as well as 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.

You might also want to learn what experts have to say. I like a webpage titled, “How is College Different from High School,” put together by SMU.  And, The Professors' Guide is good because two seasoned professionals, Professors Lynn Jacobs and Jeremy Human,  provide sound advice in easy-to-grasp lists like 15 habits of top college students and 15 secrets of getting good grades in college.  Consider printing these out and posting them on the wall over your desk.

The bottom line is ask for help when you need it.  Don’t let problems fester and snowball into crises.  Failure is almost always preventable.

NPR recently published “The 25 Most Promising Graduation Speeches of the Year,” which goes nicely with NPR’s new searchable database of The Best Commencement Speeches Ever (graduation junkies will love this).

One of my personal favorites is the address given to Stanford’s Class of 2005, by Steve Jobs, which as of this writing has nearly 20 million hits And this year’s speech given to the graduates of Emerson College by Jay Leno, former host of NBC’s Tonight Show, is sure to make the NPR collection of classics.

But in all of these wonderful remarks, you will find inspiration, encouragement, and much good advice mostly offered to undergrads—prospective as well as graduating—whose numbers you will replenish in the fall.

For now, enjoy your moment at Constitution Hall or the Patriot Center. Then turn the page and think of yourselves as members of the Class of 2018

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