For high school juniors, and especially seniors, this is the college planning season. A time for campus visits, completing FAFSA (if you don’t know what it is now, you will eventually), searching the internet for college information and stats, and receiving countless invitations by mail to select your choice for college and apply for college loans. It can be a stressful and confusing time for sure. Fortunately, many high schools today offer guidance on the subject and assistance in wading through the minutiae. It’s also an exciting time as well. The process of determining which schools you want to apply to, whether its preference schools, safety schools, or your primary choice in early decision, the process does have its fun moments. The anticipation of what the future will be like, at least the near future, provides promise and an endless world of possibilities.
The reality, however, can be quite alarming when the future suddenly morphs into the present. There are hidden secrets that are not discovered until well into their time in college. For instance, according to CompleteCollege America, a national student clearinghouse research center, the average number of years it takes a college student to graduate is six. That’s two more years than they expected. The good news is, that’s two more years around campus with friends. The bad news is, that’s another two years of tuition and room and board they have to pay for. Some of the reasons indicated are the number of students who choose to transfer to other colleges (33%) whose credits won’t transfer. Another is the lack of planning and proper use of school guidance resources. The report indicates that those students spend 40% more than students graduating in four years. These are just some of the surprises students discover along the way.
According to CollegeAtlas.org, of the 70% of Americans who attend 4-year colleges, 30% of incoming freshman students drop out after their first year. More than half (56%) of college students will drop out by year six. On average these students go on to get jobs that pay 35%, or $21,000, less each year than their college graduate counterparts, and moreover, they are still obligated for the remaining school debt they incurred during that time. For those that have begun this journey unsuccessfully, as it relates to earning a college degree, a study of 4.5 million non-first-time students (those that left school and returned later) reported by insidehighered.com indicates that only about one-third earned their degrees within eight years.
The typical picture a high schooler has of college, mostly of 18 to 24-year-olds who live in the dorms or apartments on campus, don’t have to work, attend sporting events, concerts, parties, and oh, yes, study along the way, is not completely accurate today. For instance, over a third (38%) of college students are 25 or older. Nearly six out of ten students (58%) have a job while they’re enrolled. A quarter of them (26%) are raising families; four in ten are attending school part-time, and three-quarters commute to campus. As you can see, that’s a little different picture and one that includes a bit more hard work and responsibility than the original version.
The moral of this story (if there is one) is simply this… enjoy the time as you begin this next chapter of your life. However, if possible, enter it with your eyes wide open, aware there will be responsibilities, obstacles, and challenges that lie ahead. Find the motivation, drive, and passion within you to overcome those challenges and rise high above those hurdles to reach the finish line. And remember, even if life throws you a curveball in the future that impairs your ability to start or finish in the expected time frame, or you must drop out for one reason or another, it doesn’t mean that the goal you have right now can no longer be achieved. It just means you’ll have to take a different route to get there. Regardless, as long as you reach your goal, you can still enjoy the fruits of your labor and the rewards of your hard work and determination to obtain it. It won’t be easy, but it’s entirely possible and most definitely worth it. Use this opportunity to enhance your future, and don’t let it pass you by.
Good luck to all the students embarking on this next journey and to their parents who share in it with them. I leave you with this old Irish Proverb.“May the dreams you hold dearest, be those that come true, and the kindness you spread keep returning to you.”