In 2018, there are over 3.6 million high school students expected to graduate. According to the New York Times, of that 3.6 million, roughly 65% plan on continuing their education. That is approximately 2.3 million students planning to attend some form of higher education or other. While there are those who are completely ready for the new experience, many of these rising freshmen do not know exactly what to expect. That is why we reached out to both incoming freshman and current students about the expectations and reality of college life.
To begin, we asked prospective students what they were most looking forward to about being in college. The resounding majority of responses revolved around finally being away from home or having freedom from their parents (which I am sure that parents love hearing). We then asked the opposite: what they were most nervous about. Surprisingly, we received similar responses to this question. While we heard the cliché response of adapting and meeting new people, several of the students said that they were worried about living without their parents. It is interesting that what most incoming students are excited about is also what makes them the most nervous.
We continued down this line of questioning, asking the students what they expect living away from home will be like. Again, most of the answers involved the parents; they were excited to be away from them, but at the same time nervous about not being able to rely on them at every turn. We did have one brutally honest student explain that he, "believes he’ll have too much freedom and will probably make some poor decisions during his first year."
At the end of our questions, we asked how well they thought they would be able to keep up with schoolwork while also maintaining a healthy social life. Not surprisingly, most of the answers we received were quite confident. Most students said that it would be easy and that they were able to do it throughout high school, so it shouldn’t be a problem. After talking with the incoming freshmen, one thing is clear: as stated earlier, most do not really know what to expect when it comes to college life.
And that is why we also reached out to current college students. We wanted to see if they could shed some light and help prepare the incoming freshmen for the reality of college life. First, we asked what the biggest change between high school and college was. Most of the responses had to do with workload and how the classes themselves may not be harder, especially if you have an engaging professor, but there is definitely more work. We then asked current students what they found surprisingly easy or difficult. One common answer that we received addressed the difficulty of maintaining both a social and academic life.
We finished our questions by asking the upperclassmen if they had any advice for the incoming freshmen and we received three good and relevant answers. First, don’t feel like you need to know what you want to study right away. While it’s beneficial to have an idea, it’s not necessary to know exactly what you want to do. Even if you change majors, you’re not alone. According to an USA Today article, almost 80% of students change their major at least once during their college career. Second, plan out your meals. One of the most challenging things for freshmen is maintaining a well-balanced diet. Lastly, find a balance. While it is obviously important to do well in classes, don’t seclude yourself from the rest of the world while doing so.
The biggest takeaway for universities is to help create a smooth and easy transition for incoming freshmen. As 30% of students drop out by the end of their first year, universities should prioritize making this number as low as possible. Let students know that academics are not the only aspect of college life. Make sure students have a place to reach out if need be.
A big thing that many colleges overlook is the students' connection to their dean. Most incoming students would welcome and benefit from a relationship with their college's dean.If you want to know more about how universities and deans can reach students, especially via social media download our FREE guide, The VPM's Digitial Deans Whitepaper.