While millions of Americans understand the value of a college education, as evidenced by more students enrolling than ever before, the college dropout rate hovers at 54.8 percent. Reasons for dropout can include academic, social, health, financial, and family problems, to name a few reasons for students struggling. But, with the bulk of future jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education, finishing a degree once you’ve started is a commitment worth fulfilling.
To help students who have had a rough semester, we set out to learn how students can improve their future semesters, by contacting an academic adviser who takes a holistic approach to these issues. Additionally, we consulted a transfer admissions counselor who explains that transferring is can be viable solution if needed.
Many students are uncomfortable discussing issues they’re having in school, but many students struggle with both academics and college life at some point. LaBrian Carrington, Academic Advising Counselor at Northern Illinois University, helps students by first explaining that these struggles are not uncommon and can be turned around.
“A lot of times students have this wall up in front of them, especially when they’re not doing well–they think that we’re going to pass judgement. So I kind of break those barriers because I tell them about my story,” said Carrington.
Carrington explains to students that he had a hard time with his academics and it took him longer than four years to graduate. He said that once he tells students his story and background, they are more open to share. Carrington then asks students what their plans are in terms of continuing as a student. When students, especially freshman talk about going home instead of staying at school, he asks student to think about what this will actually look like. What responsibilities and chores will they have? How will things be different? Essentially, do these students really want to go home, or are they running from solvable problems?
If students say they do want to stay at school and academics are a concern, the next step Carrington addresses is how to improve their grades. He asks students what the problem is, and a common response is that a student hates a particular subject they’re required to take. He talks with the student about how to get out of this negative mindset in order to be successful.
“We have to spin it and we have to speak life into what we do, and so instead of saying you hate something, say you want to get better at it. And when you say you want to get better at it you’re speaking life into the situation. Now go and make a difference. You have to talk to your instructor, you have to talk with a tutor, and things like that,” said Carrington.
To continue this momentum, Carrington sets small goals with students in order to reach the big goals. These small goals may be something like going to the library once a day for an hour to study, or meeting with a tutor for a set amount of time. There are many resources colleges offer, at no additional cost, to help students improve their academic performance, such as study groups, writing centers, mentoring groups, and professor office hours, that students can utilize to boost their academics.
Students that Carrington advises in this situation will also meet with him once a week to stay on track. Carrington acts as an accountability partner, which keeps students focused. If you’re struggling with your grades, find an accountability partner of your own. This could be an academic adviser, tutor, or even a peer that will hold you to your goals.
“I deal with a lot of students from [academic] probation that come in. If they do what they’re supposed to do, if they meet with me and we make those short-term goals, a lot of them get off probation, and a lot of them are moving on into their major. And that’s the ultimate goal,” said Carrington.
Of course, academics aren’t the only aspect of college with which students struggle. Carrington believes getting involved with campus and other students will help students that are doing fine academically, but aren’t wanting to stay at school.
“My question [to those students] is, ‘what are you doing as a student? Are you involved?’ A lot of times they’re not involved or they’re part of an organization, but they’re not actively involved in it. So I ask them to challenge themselves to go out and find an organization if they don’t have one, or if they’re in an organization, be a little more active in that organization,” said Carrington.
This is important because campus involvement helps students stay motivated at school and increases their retention. Carrington describes campus involvement as having “skin in the game.”
“When you’ve got skin in the game that means you’re invested. That means you’re doing things with other people in the community. So students who have skin in the game typically stay, versus those who come, just do academics, then leave,” said Carrington.
Carrington says students who are only focused on academics are more likely to leave if they encounter any roadblocks. But, getting plugged-in and finding resources and people to connect with helps students feel part of a community and more motivated to continue with their education at that particular university.
“I’m a big advocate of involvement, I’m a big advocate of healthcare, eating right, all those things because it’s all relevant to your success as a student,” said Carrington.
Although taking steps to improve your situation at your current university should be your first plan of action, transferring to another university is, by far, a better step than dropping out completely.
“With university to university transfer, a lot of those [students] are transferring for fit. So, their current institution doesn’t have the resources or the activities that they’re looking for,” said Audrey Minton, Senior Transfer Admissions Counselor at Gonzaga University.
While there are variables to address, such as transfer credits from your current university to your prospective university, price change, and timely graduation, the process of transferring isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
“Generally, we would do a pre-evaluation of the student’s credit if they contact us early enough. But [we will talk] to them about how their credit transfers, the admissions process, all the documents that are going to be required to complete the application, and then the deadlines by which those documents would need to arrive,” said Minton.
Essentially, you apply to college again, but a pre-evaluation informs you of your chances of admission and if your credits will transfer smoothly.
There are many factors that contribute to your overall life as a student, so addressing these is important to your success in a college or university. If you do fall off track, make sure you address the problems right away by utilizing campus resources before the problem becomes larger. And, if you find a university simply isn’t your best fit, transferring is always an option. Find out what your needs are and how you can address them, so you can get back to working on your degree, connecting with your community, and being a successful student.