At this point in the Higher Education 101 series, incoming college students have been exposed to the process of college as it pertains to mindset, interacting with financial aid, and choosing a major. Now that those issues have been addressed, it’s all about students starting the journey. Prior to the first day of classes, students have the freedom and responsibility of crafting their own class schedules for the upcoming semester. Unlike high school when a student’s class schedule is laid before them, students have the freedom to dictate how their semester, months, weeks, and days can go as it pertains to building a class schedule.
Over the years, arguably the biggest lesson, the most instrumental component, for student success is structure. Structure is essential to students doing well in college and it begins with time management. Students often enroll as full-time students in order to meet various requirements including everything from residence hall requirements to scholarship requirements to athletic eligibility and academic eligibility requirements and more. A full-time schedule is 12 credit hours (in a semester term), which is roughly four classes. Students can structure their week to have 2 classes a day, back-to-back, and have the remainder of their days to do whatever their hearts desire. When it is broken down in such a fashion, yet witnessing students struggle and not do well, concluding in colleges being unable to retain them, is beyond mind-boggling. It’s baffling, it's disheartening, it's a damn shame.
While students have the freedom to choose their own classes, when they go to classes, and how often they go to classes, there should also be guidance along the way to make sure students are setting themselves up to succeed. Too many times, students pick wild-ass days and times, with no rhyme or reason, simply due to having the freedom to make their own schedule (1). While it does teach students the concept of personal responsibility, folks who have been in the grind of what incoming students are sure to face can advise them on tips for course, day, and time selection.
For students living on campus and paying for meals in the cafeteria, they shouldn’t start classes at noon. When would they go to breakfast if they don’t start classes until noon? When would they go to lunch when their class schedule starts at noon and extends into the early evening? What’s the point of paying for a meal plan if students have already missed two out of the three meals they are provided per day? There is no point, yet it is a common mistake that is made simply due to having so many options and not enough guidance and structure in the schedule-building process.
The thing about college is the blame game should end once students arrive in an institution of higher learning. People can argue all day about college readiness when students are coming up in elementary school, middle school, and in high school. It’s not say those arguments don’t have merit. It’s more of a mindset that by the time they get to college, it takes a union, a village of sorts, to raise students once they arrive on campus anyway. As someone who makes working with college students a lifelong crusade, pointing the fingers at previous schooling is not something worth spending time on. What difference does it make? Okay, so such-and-such high school didn’t get students ready for college? Well, those same students graduated from high school or earned a GED and enrolled junior college and were accepted due to open enrollment admissions (2). Whether they are ready or not, they are entitled to earn a college education if they want one. Everyone should prepared to take some accountability to provide students with realistic tools to succeed, but the work doesn’t stop there. If anything, it’s only begun.
Constant reinforcement, positive reinforcement, realistic expectations and patience for the process can help students do things they never thought were possible when they didn’t know where the hell they would be going to college after high school and when they only planned on coming to junior college “to get some credits to transfer” to a four-year institution (3). Those qualities will help students and families who have trouble navigating the financial aid process. Those qualities relieve students of feeling pressure to choose a major before even being exposed to the characteristics which encompass a field of study. Once structure, true structure is established and students begin to understand the role that structure and personal responsibility plays in their lives as college students, the more students build confidence and see the process through.