Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wonder Why Wednesday: High School to College

Time and time again as a high school teacher, I have students return to see me, often for lunch or a quick Facebook chat. After talking for a bit, many casually mention they have left college. I always wonder why.

I believe there are many paths to success. Sometimes I send off students to college shaking my head, because I know he or she does not have the drive, nor the academic skills to stay there. Other times, I do wonder if some of my college dropouts were really gems, just covered in soot, that nobody took the time to dust.

How do we Americans have this problem of college freshman performing so poorly that they leave? Does society expect too many people to attend college? Is college for everyone? Do parents send kids to college with little help?

I read "High School to College Transition, Part I: The Freshman Myth" yesterday. This article built off these questions I always wonder. In it, Brian Harke wrote for the Huffington Post:

...college is one of the biggest transitions a person will make. Therefore, it only makes sense to focus more attention on high school to college transition.

I agree. Harke mentioned several other ways this should happen, such as counselors helping students (at the high school level) and colleges helping at (of course) the college level. Most importantly, he wrote about healthy dialogues that parents should have with their children. As a high school teacher, I see so many parents that think their influence with their teenagers is nil. It isn't, and discussing college in a realistic way will shape students' views and attitudes upon arrival on campus. After all, as Harke so truthfully stated about college:

The students have already arrived with ideas and perceptions about college that are often more romanticized notions than accurate reflections of college life - ideas created by admissions brochures, a campus visit, stereotypes in the media and stories from family or friends. This leaves many new students struggling to adjust to their new environment.

I "went away" to college my junior year. I remember sitting in my dorm room, wondering what to do. I had new towels, a clean room, and a loaded laundry card. I ate some Ramen noodles because I knew that people in college "survived on those" -- whatever that meant. I don't even think I was hungry. I simply did not know what to do. I wonder how many of my students feel that way. I was lucky, figured it out, and graduated. I took plenty of wrong turns and could have quit or "taken a semester off" as so many of my former students word it. When a student tells me of leaving college, I always return to that feeling of eating Ramen noodles, even though I wasn't hungry.

Harke promises to continue writing about the transition from high school to college, and we probably should too. So... what were your expectations when you went to college? How will you help your child make realistic goals and expectations for college? Do you already talk to your child about college? What is a good age to start? What do you talk about? Anything else I left out?