One of the first big challenges we face in life is the one we face when we make that gigantic leap from high school to college. The transition is particularly challenging because there is so much on the line; a whole future can be determined – good or bad – from first-year performance in college. Yet, this monumental challenge catches many teens off guard; they are unsure how to succeed freshman year of college and  show up on college campus without the tools to succeed.

A whole new set of tools is required in college, and that toolbox must include a shift in perspective. In fact, to be really successful, students must stop thinking of themselves as students, and start thinking of themselves as professionals in training.

If that shift in perspective doesn’t take place, freshmen will experience the five fatal fails.

1. Dropping the Baton

As  students make the transition from high school to college, a “baton” of responsibility is passed from parent to student. Students must take on the tasks that parents helped them with throughout high school, and if they don’t take charge fully and totally, they may start sinking fast.

College students must understand the information-sharing shift that takes place. To the annoyance of many parents, college officials cannot share any information about grades, schedules, performance, and attendance. If students show up in the dorms and never show up for a single class, for example, the parent may not have any idea until the student is put on academic suspension – and that can take a few semesters.

How can freshmen fail if they drop the baton?

  • Don’t get out of bed for the 8:00 class and don’t realize it will result in an F – Professors can fail students who don’t meet attendance requirements – including those who arrive late too frequently. Be sure to read the class syllabus for rules on attendance and punctuality.
  • Don’t take responsibility for assignment due dates – Many professors refuse to accept assignments after the due date. This may be a big change from high school. Students have to be aware of due dates with no reminders from Mom and Dad.
  • Don’t read policies like Standards of Academic Progress – This is a policy that concerns maintaining eligibility for financial aid, and freshmen can lose eligibility fast under this rule. If freshmen withdraw from, or fail, a few classes in their first semester, the aid will be cut off.
  • Don’t pay attention to other financial aid requirements – Emails and calls will go to the student when it comes to financial business. If students ignore emails from financial aid officials and neglect requests for additional paperwork, they can be dropped from classes.

While it may sound harsh, it is important to know that the hands of college officials are tied when it comes to preventing students from spiraling if they don’t seize the baton and run with it.

2. Study Skills Denial

Academic requirements in college are high: exams may cover ten chapters of history – and they may do it with a single essay question. What is the trick to getting an A in a test like that?

The answer is no fun. The “trick” is hours and hours of monotonous re-reading and re-writing. Studying should feel like physical labor.

When students hear this answer, they tend to glaze over and repeat the question. “No, what is the trick, really?” Many think there is actually a better way and they insist they just need to find the mysterious key to unlocking the mystery. Here is the only trick.

Read. Outline. Practice. Write it down. Repeat ten times. Start a week early and practice every day. Spend at least two hours on every chapter.

 

3. Thinking Small

Another big shift takes place when it comes to the level of research and writing you can expect in college. Students can struggle with research papers at first, because they are stuck in “student mode.” It’s time to think bigger in college.

In high school, your research papers probably contained information your teacher already knows. They existed to prove that you read a few books. In college, the papers you’ll eventually write must contain new ideas and information that your professor has never heard before.

In college you become a first-level professional in a field. Your research sources must be reliable, questions should be original, and your findings should be thought-provoking.

4. Looking for the Reset Button

Have you ever flopped on a test and asked for a re-test? Enjoy that memory. Re-tests are practically non-existanct in college.

Have you ever skipped a class on a big test day? Don’t try this in college! Professors may not offer make-up exams. You may get lucky with a medical excuse.

Have you ever realized that the ten-page paper is due in ten hours? Don’t expect to negotiate the deadline in college. If it happens at all, you can expect a deduction in your grade.

5. Time Management Denial

Real, effective time management is critical to student success, but it requires more work than many students expect.

In fact, time management for college involves all of the topics that were covered in items 1-4 above.

  • Time management requires an understanding of rules and deadlines that you will find on the college web site or in each class syllabus. Read the rules to head off the obstacles that might catch you off guard.
  • Great time management means setting aside hours and hours of study time and sending reminders about due dates.
  • When it comes to “thinking big” about academic expectations, time management means planning your research ahead of time. You may need to wait for an interlibrary loan or you may need to travel to a local archive for some of your research.
  • Time management means preparing well ahead of tests and due dates, because you probably have one shot to get things right. Use a planner and look at it every day.
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