Failing, Fat, and Poor: The Struggles College Freshman Encounter

The American education system is inherently flawed. The high school course load is demanding, textbooks are expensive, and the inequality in education is apparent. One overlooked issue burdening the education of many is the lack of preparation for the change from high school to college. One’s high school education maybe setting them up for failure in college, and in their future career.

Students have high hopes and dreams for college. They are done with the high social and academic pressures placed on them in high school by teachers, parents, and peers. They are excited to take on the new chapter of their lives, the opportunity to reinvent themselves with the freedom they now have. However, when they get to college, the reality of the situation is shocking. The responsibility of independence is overwhelming, causing their freshman year grades to suffer.

The academic struggles encountered have an emotional impact on students. A multi-year College and Career readiness survey conducted by Youth Truth reported less than half of students feel positive about their college and career readiness. The report explains that although 87 percent of students will graduate college and land a job, few believe they are gaining the skills and knowledge necessary for their future career. This report clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of this problem, however it has yet to be fixed. Students GPAs, potential future in particular careers, and their ability to finish college is being damaged.

The solution involves an over haul of the way high school students are taught. Preparing a student to get into college, and preparing a student to succeed in college are two very different things that have somehow morphed together. High schools need to shift their focus from gaining college acceptance to producing students prepared for college. A variety of curriculum should be offered to high school students in order to prepare them for their future majors, as well as the skills necessary to be independent in college. The hand holding needs to stop so students learn to take responsibility for their education.

It was not always the norm that every high school student went to college. Many entered a profession that did not require a college degree. With increasing numbers of college admissions, students now have the mindset that their high school grades do not matter because they will gain acceptance into college. Journalist James Rosenbaum reports, “The tight connection between high school preparation (in terms of both the rigor of courses taken and grades received) and college completion are well known” to most, but not apparent to students, creating poor work ethics, decreasing graduation rates from the college and widening the gap between what is expected from a high school senior and a college freshman.

As described by Sherri Kuhn, writer for the Washington Post, the adjustment from high school to college is a colossal culture shock. The typical day of a high school student entails a six hour school day, sports practice, club meetings, ACT and SAT classes, work, and many other extracurricular activities. Their hard work seems to pay off when they receive their high school diploma and are moving on.

However, their expectations are much different from reality. Writer Sherri Kuhn says they’re “Suddenly faced with a semester of only four classes, they have more time on their hands than they know how to manage”. Before they know it, first semester is coming to an end, their grades are poor, and there is little time left to make improvement.

The cause of this concern is the compilation of many different aspects that morph into one theme: the students are not mentally prepared. When asked, a shocking percentage of students described their high school educational experience as easy and non-challenging, as disclosed by Dian Schaffhauser, who conducted a survey based on college and career preparation. In 2015, Schaffhauser found a mere 14 percent of “college instructors stated that schools were doing an adequate job of readying students for what came next after high school”.

Certain educational organizations pride the high school educational system in the resources provided to prepare students for their future. However, these organizations are often affiliated with the moneymaking aspects of education, such as the required college entrance exams, corrupting the accuracy of their opinions. High School Action Plan, posted on scholarships.com, portrays a distorted image of the role of high school education in college preparedness, depicting it as an eye opening journey providing the necessary skills to follow ones passions.

The concept seems simple: offer resources for college preparedness in high school, and student will thrive in college. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As proclaimed in a college readiness survey conducted by nbc news, “Emotional preparedness was a major factor in determining whether a student had a successful freshman year or not”. In the survey of 1,500 first-year college students, more than half of them reported not feeling emotionally. This 60% of students tended to have lower GPAs, and described their freshman year negatively. They reported feelings of anxiety and stress, admitting, “they needed to improve their time management and independent living skills”. Wishing they had learned this lesson earlier on, these students now need to play catch up and learn these skills the hard way.

Kuhn suggests a possible solution that starts from home. Suggesting that “‘Parents can work with students by sharing time management skills. They can discuss using calendars and planners to keep track of appointments and deadlines’”. However, parents send their children to school hoping they are receiving the proper preparation for future educational endeavors. School should provide the structure to help students develop the self-control needed to be in charge of their education once they are on their own in college.

Elaborating on this idea, Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers offers solutions based on their research. For an improvement to take place, change needs to occur in high school classrooms. Mediocre academic challenges are not enough to prepare students for what they will encounter in college. Strong academic challenges must be provided paired with constant communication between teacher and student. Consistent standards among all high school students are advocated for, so all students enter college with the same basic level of readiness.

Amy Diluna offers advice on how students can both have fun and be academically successful in college in her article, Study Hard, Play Hard: Have Fun in College Without Your Grades Suffering. The biggest problem affecting GPA of first year college students: time. The challenge is organizing free time one to fit everything they want to do and everything they need to do. She says “‘It’s not just balancing time, but how you use the time, and taking advantage of the resources that are available to you’”. Finding that busier students tend to have higher GPAs, Diluna proposes to not overcommit, but that students should keep a busier schedule so that organization is a routine part of each day.

In an idealistic world, all students would thrive in college, graduating completely prepared for their future career. However, an achievable goal is to decrease the gap between expectations of high school and college students to increase the success rate in college.

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