Why Students Drop Out of College

Image by: Faustin Tuyambaze | Unsplash

Last year I went to a training session to become a Welcome Week leader. Welcome Week is a program at the University of Minnesota to help freshmen feel included and comfortable in their transition to the university.

There were around fifty of us present that afternoon. We didn’t want to be there, to be honest with you — most of us just wanted something good to put on our resume.

The coordinator would tell us he really believes in this program and the “power” we had to give freshmans a good first impression. Later in the session a woman with short, brunette hair told us the real reason why Welcome Week was created: “We want to know why students drop out of college,” she says. “Most drop out their first semester.”

Knowing the real reason why Welcome week existed angered me. But it made sense — how can the university know why students drop out if they never tell them why they do?

And so I thought, why not tell my university, and to everyone else who’s curious, the real reason why students drop out of college:

1. They Feel Stupid

Students who come from good schools are better prepared for college — that’s obvious. But see, we’re talking about the University of Minnesota here. If you’re not a walking, talking Spencer Reids from Criminal Minds, you’re not smart enough to be here.

Did anyone say this out loud? Nope. But it’s implied.

Although I came to this university fair and square, I feel like I have to constantly prove that I deserve to be here. If I don’t do well on a midterm, if I drop a course, if I don’t know what I’m doing in lab, then I prove that I wasn’t chosen for “fair” reasons.

Listen up conceited jerks at my university: I wasn’t chosen because the university needed more diversity. I wasn’t chosen because I’m lucky. I wasn’t chosen because of reverse-racism. I was chosen because my academic abilities is at the same level as yours. So go take a shot of fuck-you.

Of course, this wasn’t my attitude as a freshman. Back then, I genuinely believed that my acceptance was a mistake. I would listen to professors’ hard words with Google ready to search their meanings. I would stare at the glassware in Chemistry lab trying to figure out what a graduated cylinder was. I was struggling from day one.

2. They Feel Like They Don’t Belong

I’m a first-generation student — my parents weren’t lucky enough to go to college. Including the fact that my family is working-poor and we’re African-American Muslims, I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders to get good grades and raise my family from poverty.

There are homeless students, LGBTQ students, commuters — so many who struggle to fit in.

I still hate my university, but I love the Multicultural Center here — there’s a difference. When I go there, I can talk to people about the struggles I go through. I can microwave my homemade pasta and eat it while watching anime and Kpop. For a few hours everyday I feel comfortable and happy. Yet some students aren’t aware of places they can fit in and quickly feel ostracized.

3. The University Isn’t Helpful

Chanting, “go to your advisors, choose your major, and graduate on time” over and over again isn’t helpful at all — those three things are obvious. Either you think this is actual advice, or you think we’re stupid. Who’s ever said, “Hey, I want to be a super senior and not graduate with the rest of my class”? Or “hey, I want to drop out of college and be seen as a failure in American society”? That’s right, NO ONE.

There are students who come here who don’t know what they’re doing. But here’s the tricky part — they pretend everything’s alright because they’ve learned for so long to struggle alone.

I filed the FAFSA myself. I learned to get good grades by myself. I learned to hold my head up high as a American Muslim (which is getting tougher thanks to a specific orangutan) by myself. It’s not that my parents wouldn’t help — they were completely helpless when I struggled so hard my first semester. They didn’t know what to do, and how to help me get better.

Adding the oh-so-clueless University in the mix doesn’t help students like us.

4. They’re Not In College For Themselves

There are lots of students pressured to become doctors and lawyers. So instead of taking classes that play to their strengths, they take classes they hate and do poorly.

One day I was waiting for the express bus to take me home. I was listening to music when a Somali girl approached me. We were having a short conversation when she asked, “Abaayo, what are you majoring in?” I said, “English.” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Wallah, really? Woah, that’s so brave.” “Brave?” “Yes, I would major in that if I could.”

5. No one was there when they were at their lowest.

I was so tired of spending hours commuting by bus. Hours of waiting between huge gaps of classes. And most of all, I was tired of feeling lost, stupid and getting bad grades.

When I told my mom and older sister I wanted to drop out, my reasons didn’t make any sense. But they knew I was going through a lot, and convinced me to stay for one more semester. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.

Now as a sophomore I know better. I’m still struggling, but I’m making it work. I’m majoring in what I’m best at, and working harder than ever to be the best I can be.

I hope this post gives students struggling some relief — it’s hard to relate to people like you when they pretend not to be.

I hope everyone has a great day!