About half of all students that start college this year will never graduate.
It is not that students today are less smart or less capable than the students before them. It is not that these students are intentionally planning to not finish what they start.
Especially considering that many non-finishers are saddled with college debts and no degree to show for it. All the noise made each year about how hard it is to get into college is hiding the real dilemma.
Getting out of college is way harder than getting in.
Getting In To College Is Easy
There are nearly four thousand colleges to choose from nationwide. This is a large wide open marketplace for higher education. Colleges have made going to college easier than ever before allowing students to attend part-time without having to live on campus. Factor in easy access to college loans and most students can go.
More than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates attend colleges that accept at least half of their applicants. Students can safeguard the risk of not getting admitted to college by applying to numerous colleges that both have average and high acceptance rates.
One path emerging recently to four-year college is through a two-year associates program at local community colleges. This solves tougher freshman college admissions standards and reduces overall college costs for those that earn their degrees.
Why Does It Seem So Hard To Get In?
It seems so hard to get in to college because of the media frenzy each year. It’s a big market with over two million high school seniors heading off to college each year.
We see attention grabbing headlines intended to strike fear into prospective students and their families. These headlines are aimed at this captive audience of anxious college goers seeking to define their futures.
As a society we also have a fascination with getting into the big name schools.
It may be more difficult to get into your school of choice but getting into a college is not as challenging.
If you are targeting just one highly selective school then you face a higher risk of letdown. Or perhaps you are only attempting to get into a handful of the highly selective U.S. colleges that accept less than 25 percent of applicants.
This group of highly selective schools represent only four percent of the four-year colleges in the U.S. and includes Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth, Brown, University of Chicago, Columbia, and Duke to name some.
They are the Ivy league and the big trophy name public and private colleges sprinkled across the country. These are the schools that are the most talked about in high school social circles.
They are also included at the top of the national college ranking lists published each year. These college rankings fuel the application rockets destined to provide low acceptance rates and perpetual high selectivity prestige at these schools.
I truly feel for the admissions department at Stanford. Imagine having a stack of forty thousand applications of the best and the brightest. Now imagine only being able to accept one out of twenty of these superstars.
Jon Reider, co-author of the book Admissions Matters and former Stanford admissions officer admitted the relief of no longer having to make admissions decisions from a stack of thousands of applications. “I no longer have to say no to people I do not know or have not met.”
The number of Stanford applications has risen from nineteen thousand in 2000 to more than forty-four thousand in 2015. Those increased applications have reduced the acceptance rate to nearly five percent as the number of freshman seats have remained about the same.
The reality is that those applicants not accepted to certain highly selective schools have demonstrated that they have what it takes to be great students and will gain entry into a great college.
It just may not be their #1 school of choice.
If you are ambitious and good enough to apply to the most selective colleges in the U.S. then you will be fine. I can say that with a high degree of confidence. You have proven yourself worthy. Now you just need to go rock your college experience.
Why Is It So Hard To Graduate From College Today?
What used to take four years to graduate is now commonly taking six years or longer. The longer it takes, the more the cost and the less likely students will achieve their degree. As they say, life happens.
Data at CollegeBoard suggest that residential full-time students have a higher graduation rate. This may be attributed to their ability to focus on taking and completing their coursework.
There are numerous factors contributing to today’s college completion problem.
- Course Availability
- College Approach
Course Availability: Students are required to complete a set number of required and elective courses based on their program and major. Sometimes certain classes are not available and this can disrupt student schedules attempting to complete key courses that may be prerequisites for other courses or program or major completion.
- One goal is to identify which courses that are required and commonly not available
- One strategy is to identify when the courses are available and then register the minute it opens up for enrollment, seeking any exceptions or early registration opportunities that may be made available to you
College Approach: The college approach has shifted for many. Many students delay attending, attend part-time, are not living on campus, and have jobs. The total course load may vary each semester and extends the amount of time it will take to complete all required courses to graduate. Colleges typically consider full-time 12 hours or more per semester, which is typically 4 classes. To graduate in four years commonly requires a minimum of 5 classes per semester. My college required a couple of six-class semesters to graduate in four years, so I opted to take a class over two summer terms after my sophomore and junior years to have the required number of credit hours to graduate in four years. The graduation requirements do change from year to year so be sure to evaluate your starting year graduation requirements.
- Some goals should be to understand which classes are required to graduate, how many classes you need to take each year to graduate, conduct semester and annual graduation audits
- One strategy will be to map out when you will take which courses specifically, looking at prerequisites, required class timings, and electives – while balancing difficulty, workload, and daily schedule management (early versus late classes, M-W-F vs T-Th classes, once per week evening class)
Cost: There is no denying that college is expensive. The comprehensive cost of college includes tuition, room & board, fees, books, parking and other expenses. In North Carolina, a public in-state university comprehensive costs are around $20 thousand annually. One major factor students drop out or transfer is not academic related, it is cost related. They either run out of money or do not want to take on more debt to continue their education.
- Some goals should be to understand the comprehensive cost of attending college, understand how you will pay for the entire four years of college and the return on investment based on major/career path
- One strategy is to graduate on-time according to your plan
Indecision: Students do not know what they want to be when they graduate. This can slow decisions for majors and can also require a shift in programs. If a students changes majors their junior or senior year of college it can require more semesters or years to complete. There is a cost associated with a change in decision as each major or program has required courses. Big shifts and timing of the big shifts can dramatically impact college completion.
- One goal should be to do some evaluation about what types of careers and majors you may be interested in. There is a class review technique of getting a class booklet from the college and highlighting all of the course names/descriptions that look interesting. This can lead to career exploration and major decisions
- One strategy may be to complete your undergraduate degree as planned and then coordinate a pivot later, perhaps after some work experience and through a graduate program. Any pivots should be closely evaluated for return on investment and updated comprehensive cost evaluation
What Can I Do To Be Sure I Graduate and Graduate On-Time?
You should check out my blog post The 4-Year College Graduation Myth and it’s $100,000 Price Tag. The article provides some keys to graduate in four years. Graduating college is possible. It is also wise to build a relationship with key faculty and your academic advisor. Verify all audits with the published program requirements based on your incoming class year. The key is having a college plan.