Have you heard how painfully high the dropout rates are at four-year colleges? Well, there are also some scary mental health issues you should look into according to research on college freshman. If you haven’t heard, studies have been showing that almost half of the students that enroll won’t finish their degree; at least not within 6 years of starting, that is.
And while that may be frightening for you to hear when you consider the cost of tuition these days, the thought that your child might end up feeling isolated and completely alone is far more worrisome than a low GPA for some parents. But research has shown a clear link between these 2 factors. Indeed, your child’s likelihood to graduate is connected to how ostracized or alone they feel on campus and some institutions are taking small steps to help with the issue.
What’s being done?
Many colleges now offer introductory courses to the college experience in which the students are given tips on cliche topics like: how to take better notes, how to work in groups, or how to get organized. While this knowledge can be useful if students take it seriously, there is a gap that does not address the lonely thoughts so many feel, how to confront them, or what to do to about them. I experienced such a class firsthand during my freshman year of undergraduate college and even then noticed how ineffective the information was.
All around me I would see students shuffle to and from their dorm and I even had some hall mates confide in me how miserable they could get.
The worst thing about feeling alone freshman year is that new studies show how social networks become very rigid in the years that follow.
It seems that freshman year is the golden opportunity to meet longtime friends because everyone is seeking out new people to get to know and everyone is the new kid.
Have you ever noticed that when you go on a vacation with a group of strangers (at a resort or on a cruise) certain social norms seem to dissolve?
Everyone is more open, chats casually and shares things amongst the group as if you are in it together. That’s what freshman year is like and, after that, it seems 10 times harder to form new bonds and for many students.
What I got from graduate school that your student should know before freshman year…
First, you should take the above research to heart. Your first year is your window of opportunity and if you have any sort of social anxiety issue, you need to begin working on them in a structured way now to make the most of your next four years.
You don’t need to become a social butterfly and it’s unrealistic to think you will just snap out of it but you can start by taking the steps given at the bottom of this article Emerging Research Links More Amazing Gifts to Social Anxiety.
Second, studies show a staggering disconnect between how many students, like yourself, expect to join some club or organization during their college years and those that actually do; the chances of you doing so are slim.
Why? It’s intimidating, you don’t know which to join, and at your high school it just wasn’t cool to be in a club. But you know what? No one cares in college.
You’ll notice the “cool kids” who only go to classes then back to their dorm will end up with the same ‘friends’ all four years (other hall mates).
Do you think those are the best friends on campus they could find? No, but they were lazy and uninvolved freshman year, the window closed, and their network became rigid; this is something I can guarantee you will see.
Many of my personal consulting clients from last summer were up and coming freshman whose parents had concerns about them thriving in the new environment and brought me on to give them the best chance.
Can you guess what I got thanked most for?
Giving their children a choice of three hand-picked clubs from their school and having them pledge to join one within the first two weeks. Sure, your child may benefit from being guided through certain social situations as well, but when your student joins a group the long list of benefits are more easy to point out.
The bottom line
Humans have what psychologists call an ‘instinct for idleness’. That is, when you’re given the option to do nothing you take it even though you’d be far happier if you were active. And the real kicker? Even the smallest enticement is enough to get you up and going toward improving your life. In one study, just a piece of candy worked and the participants were far more content working on a task than those who remained idle.
So, if you want to ensure your child has a positive college experience, help they avoid that idleness and you will find them more connected, happier, and with better grades than had they stuck to the status quo.
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