College success from orientation to graduation

August 23, 2004|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

"I can't afford it anymore."

"I'm just tired of school."

"It's a lot harder than I expected."

These are just some of the reasons why students drop out of college. When they do, they waste thousands of dollars in tuition money - and forgo money they could have earned in the future if they had a college degree.

Less than 75 percent of college freshmen return to the same school for their sophomore year, according to ACT research. What's worse, the U.S. Department of Education says that less than 65 percent of students who enroll as freshmen actually earn a degree within six years.

With thousands of students heading to college this month, what can parents do to help their college students succeed?

First, realize that it's almost entirely up to the students themselves. Parents can provide lots of encouragement and guidance, but for the first time in most of their lives, college marks a time when students will have to learn how to make it on their own.


That said, chances are that at least some of the money going to pay for tuition is coming from you, the parent. You have a vested interest in seeing that student through to graduation. So make sure that they know what will make it more likely for them to succeed once they move out of your house and on to campus.

  • Getting involved. From intramural sports to the campus newspaper to fraternities and sororities, getting involved on campus means students will meet more people with the same interests or major. Groups closely aligned with students' majors can introduce them to students who are a few years ahead of them, full of advice about which classes they need, which professors are good and which are not.

  • Going to class. Many students make the mistake of thinking that just because they enroll in a large lecture class, it doesn't matter if they show up. That's not necessarily true. Professors often explain topics in different ways than a textbook's authors, and they often highlight topics in their lectures that will show up on tests - things that students won't get from just keeping up on the reading.

  • Finding a good place to study. It's important to figure out where is the best, most effective place to study. More than a third of this year's college freshmen who took the ACT said they need help with study skills, math skills or writing skills. While some students love the silence and solitude at the library, others learn better by meeting with other students and studying in a group. It doesn't matter how students study - just that they do it.

  • Getting to know professors and advisers. Professors and advisers can be a lifeline when problems arise. Getting to know them one-on-one can help a student not only feel connected to their school or major, but can also help should they need to drop a class, change their major or hone in on a major.

  • Understanding that feeling overwhelmed and homesick comes with the territory. Many students going away to college may not expect it, but the responsibility and occasional homesickness that comes along with being on their own can be overwhelming at times. My son goes to college halfway across the country. He loves school and has great friends, but he gets homesick more often than he thought he would. So I invested in a "family plan" for cell phones, so he can call his father, his sister or me any time he wants to. And his grandma and I team up to send care packages with his favorite cookies, pictures of his cat, goofy cartoons and other reminders that we miss him, too.

It's important to remember that while a large number of students will drop out of college for one reason or another, many more stick it out and get their degrees. Just make sure that before you unpack your son or daughter at the dorm, you've prepared them for how to succeed after you drive away.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to

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