College 101:: Strategies for 1st Year Success
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New research
indicates that high school seniors
need more preparation
for college life.
 
 
 
 
A Closer Look

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College Freshmen Preparedness
Advice Survey & Findings:
New
research calls for additional college prep training.

Abstract:
Making the transition from high school to college can be one of the biggest challenges in life. The first year dropout rate stands at 26% nationally. Adolescent decision-making literature suggests that youths can achieve greater success and reduce negative consequences during their first year of college if they 1) increase knowledge of new social scene and academic protocols, and 2) work through a conjectural decision-making process prior to arrival on campus.

A new research study was undertaken at Ohio State University to identify key indicators of success, particularly with respect to the transition to college and first year experience. Over 280 current collegians from 77 different colleges and universities across the U.S. provided rich data via online surveys, personal interviews, and “live on campus” filming sessions. The initial data analysis cites strong evidence calling for additional college preparatory programming before students arrive on campus. Recent University of Wisconsin findings concur.  

Background
Each year, approximately 1.8 million U.S. first-quarter college freshmen encounter the greatest decision-making period of their young lives. Many of their choices will initiate life-long consequences with financial, emotional and physical (health-related) implications. The highest risks include a dramatic loss of earning capacity due to failing or dropping out—26% freshman non-return rate nationally (ACT, 2004), acquiring a sexually transmitted infection—25% of college age youths (CDC, 2004), alcohol poisoning, acquaintance rape, and others.

Conversely, behavioral data on youths show improved decision-making and fewer negative consequences associated with prior encounters or foreknowledge of given life scenarios (Trad, 1993; Wyatt, 1989). A natural hypothesis follows: Youths will achieve greater success and reduce negative consequences during their first year college if they

- increase knowledge of social scene changes and new academic protocols; and,
- work through a conjectural decision-making process prior to arrival on campus.  

Increased College Prep Efforts
In recent years, colleges and universities have added “First Year Encounter” seminars aimed at easing social and academic adjustments while lessening dropout potential. Most, however, offer these during the first quarter—too late to provide critical processing time for risk decision-making. Freshman orientation is offered prior to campus arrival, but tends to focus on class scheduling, placement, and library use. In addition, it is predisposed toward the specific, instructing institution.

Prior to departure for college, high school guidance counselors work to prepare students for entry exams, scholarships and financial aid applications. They have little time, however, for discussions on social scene changes, campus life, or collegiate academic rigor. The popular press offers several “college survival” titles as antecedents; but reviews are anecdotal and mixed, at best.

Adolescent decision-making theories note the predictive abilities of intervention to influence actual decisions that can forecast outcomes (Mann, Harmoni, & Power, 1991; Ross, 1981). However, a research-based program for high school students prior to their arrival on campus was largely absent. 

The Ohio State Study -- Research Methodology
A new research study was undertaken to identify key indicators of success in the first year college experience. Over 600 current college students were asked what advice they would give college-bound high school seniors prior to their arrival on campus. More than 280 current students from 77 different colleges and universities across the U.S. provided rich data via online surveys, personal interviews, and “live on campus” filming sessions.

Current collegian email addresses were identified from a variety of on-campus student organizations, student government, and Facebook profiles. Online campus bulletin board posts were utilized as well. Students were invited to participate in an anonymous survey utilizing a link to the Zoomerang online survey service. They were also asked to forward the link and survey (snowballing effect) to college friends. No identifying data were collected aside from a basic demographic profile.

The initial data analysis cites strong evidence calling for additional college preparatory programming before students arrive on campus. Findings from a recent University of Wisconsin study concur.

In late 2006, the University of Wisconsin Research Foundation’s Transitions to College Focus Group Study contributed collaborating data. They found that many college students wish they had known in high school how much more demanding college would be. They also said that college stress would have been reduced if they had taken more courses to prepare them for college. (Janke, et al, 2006).

The report recommended “developing workshops for parents and their college-bound students to discuss the social transformations that are coming.”  They also recommended using current college students “to share their experiences and advice with high school seniors as way to increase their knowledge about academic, social, and financial issues related to the transition to college.”   

The Study – INITIAL FINDINGS:
In this study, the stage was set by asking current collegians to think back to their own high school-to-college transition. They were instructed to try to remember their preparation and arrival at college. The following questions are excerpted for this highlight report.

Question 1:
Aside from a required on-campus orientation, how much did you do to prepare for the transition from high school to college?
 

 

1

Did not do

2

3

4

5

Did a lot

Talked with friends already at college.

13%

24%

29%

22%

12%

Attended college prep seminars/classes (not orientation).

75%

10%

5%

6%

5%

Read “college survival” books.

67%

22%

5%

4%

3%

Did Internet research on college life.

39%

27%

15%

11%

8%

Aside from talking with friends “already at college,” the majority of respondents did very little to prepare for their transition to college. Considering the high cost of entry (including testing, application fees, tuition and room/board expenses), this is extraordinarily surprising. One could strongly suggest there exists a great opportunity for additional research in this area.  

Some questions may include:
Is the senior year schedule too demanding to allow time for this exploration? Are seniors aware of the attrition that occurs during the first year of college? Is there a perception that there is no need for preparation aside from a “college prep” high school curriculum?

QUESTION 3:  During your 1st quarter, how well were you prepared for… 

 

Ranked high-to-low by combined 1+2 columns:

1

Was not prepared

2

3

4

5

Had a handle on things

Talking with Professors

40%

17%

23%

30%

18%

12%

Roommates / getting along

26%

13%

13%

18%

25%

31%

Campus party scene

25%

9%

16%

25%

30%

21%

Managing your time

25%

8%

17%

26%

35%

15%

Study skills and techniques

25%

6%

19%

24%

33%

19%

Difficulty of classes

23%

7%

16%

23%

33%

21%

Amount of school work

23%

6%

17%

24%

36%

18%

Choosing and balancing classes

22%

6%

16%

28%

30%

20%

Budgeting money

21%

6%

15%

19%

26%

34%

Safety on campus

10%

4%

6%

17%

32%

40%

Amount of personal freedom

9%

2%

7%

21%

35%

34%

In a standard quantitative Likert scale, responding collegians self-reported very low numbers regarding lack of preparedness (column 1 responses). By combining columns 1+2, about one-forth of all respondents across all categories (excepting the first and last two) indicated that they were not prepared for many of colleges basic challenges. This, interestingly, compares with the 26% national non-return rate; however, these respondents—remember—are current collegians. Thus, a quarter of those who remained in college still struggled with being unprepared.

Conversely, that leaves (roughly) three-fourths of the remaining respondents indicating that they (more or less) “had a handle on things.” One exception was the 17% indicating a lack of preparation for “talking with professors.” The fewest number of respondents (only 2%) chose “amount of personal freedom” as a problem area. A full 90% clicked 3, 4, or 5 in this category as “having a handle on things.” (This is dramatically opposed to what students wrote in the open-ended dialogue box, as we shall see in the next question.) 

QUESTION 4:  What were you NOT prepared for?
(This question was posed in an open-ended narrative format; resultant percentages via qualitative key-word data coding):

Key Words or Subjects

Was not prepared

Amount of personal freedom
(homesickness had specific mentions in conjunction with this new freedom in 1/3 of those responses -- alone equaling 9% of total.

27%

Managing your time

14%

Roommates / getting along

14%

Difficulty of classes

12%

The amount of school work

12%

Campus party scene

7%

Study skills and techniques

7%

Choosing and balancing classes

4%

Budgeting money

1.4%

Talking with Professors

1.4%

Safety on campus*
(pre Virginia Tech tragedy)

.2%

In analyzing supplied sentences and paragraphs from the same current collegians, 27%—over one in four—specifically mention a lack of preparedness for the “amount of personal freedom” in their responses. Of those, one third used the word “homesick” in their description of college life and this new freedom.

Without attempting an explanation of the psychology of late-teen adolescent self-reporting behaviors, it is clear that when given the opportunity at an open-ended narrative format, a significant number absolutely described being unprepared for the amount of personal freedom they were suddenly experiencing. Thus, the whole of Question 3 would benefit from a follow-up with open-ended response opportunities.

Several excerpts include (uncorrected for punctuation, grammar, or spelling):

  • Amount of personal freedom. I went to school far from home on purpose. But there's a reason you're still a teenager at 18... you act like one.
  • I thought I was prepared for the freedom. You know, the typical no curfew, not having to study if I didn't want to. My grades would have been better had I managed to be more responsible with my freedom.
  • The amount of new freedom
  • Having the freedom to choose not to go to class, thinking there would be no consequences…
  • Realizing that I was on my own and that if things needed to be done it was solely up to me.
  • Freedom- I thought I was going to be no problem but when it really came down to it the freedom was not as good as what I thought it would be

QUESTION 8:  What one piece of advice would you give a college-bound student?
(This question was posed in an open-ended narrative format; resultant percentages via qualitative key-word data coding):

Join clubs and activities

18%

Find a Balance

15%

Make Friends / Be Open

13%

Enjoy Yourself / Have Fun

13%

Study

11%

Just Be Yourself

9%

Be Careful / Campus Safety

9%

Talk with your Professors

6%

Manage Your Time

6%

With a 26% non-return rate (freshman drop-out) nationally, current collegian responses of “join, make friends, and enjoy” (totaling 44%) may be telling. “Find a balance” and “study” are the only two categories above 10% that may serve as a warning. The two lowest responses, “talk with professors” and “manage your time” are two critical elements for success in college. Again, students could greatly benefit from instruction on these subjects.

Several excerpts include (uncorrected for punctuation, grammar, or spelling):

  • Participate in a pre-orientation event! At Cornell, incoming freshmen can participate in a week-long camping trip or service trip. That trip was the ONLY reason why my transition to college was a hundred times easier than I ever expected.
  • Get involved in campus groups or activities, the non-academic activities and friends are what keeps you sane come crunch time.
  • get out there! Get involved! It truly affects your level of happiness on campus and gives you some motivation during the monotonous weekly schedules
  • Get involved in activities. You meet so many people that way AND you get to meet people who have the same interests as you
  • Get involved on campus right away. It's the best way to get connected with people you may have never had the chance to know. Try to get out of your comfort zone.
  • wait a month or two before getting too involved… make sure you keep academics first. Get a grasp on those - then you can branch out.

Conclusions
Like most qualitative research studies, these findings raise numerous questions that deserve further study. For example, how might high school educators encourage college-bound seniors to undertake some form of preparation beyond “talking with some friends”?

Concurrently, the results of this study add rich and compelling first-hand accounts in narrative form to the youth in transition and adolescent decision-making literature. The open-ended questions via email and on-camera interview provided a large qualitative data set with quantifiable variables that can directly advise incoming college students via inclusion in new or existing college prep programs.

Based on the high response rate and volume of written responses from participants, a high interest by current collegians seems to exist. This perhaps indicates the realization or understanding of the need for an interventive program. Again, typical responses included:

“I wish I was more confident as a freshman.”
“I wasn’t prepared to be in control.”
“A lot of people aren’t ready for college.”

This peer-to-peer wisdom may greatly improve the chances for incoming first year college student success.

A Resulting Program:
Key themes from the OSU research study were distilled and used to create a new, independent curriculum to provide assistance to college-bound youths. The College 101: Strategies for 1st Year Success curriculum is designed for any student going away to any university. It offers essential knowledge that may help reduce negative consequences and dropout rates of first-year college freshmen.

The program includes unscripted “live on campus” video interviews with current collegians. Topics include choosing classes, talking with professors, time management, budgeting, social scene changes, campus safety, and more.

To date, requests for the program from over 600 youth specialists in colleges, universities, and non-profits in 40 states have been filled. An estimated 30,000-50,000 students have participated in the seminar version of the program. Of 1,123 collected evaluations, 88.4% of students said they learned new information and/or that “they would recommend the program to a friend.”

A new “Self-Study” version was developed and awarded “Best Program Package in the Nation” by the Journal of Youth Development’s academic and professional organization in 2007. This academic and professional organization consists of over 3,600 members located in colleges and universities across the country.  

 


CURRICULUM HIGHLIGHTS:
The curriculum is in use across the country in 40 states. Some highlights and awards include:

1st Place Nationally - Journal of Youth Development's academic and professional association. In blind peer reviews, the program was chosen as the best program package in the nation in 2007.

 

 

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