Why do 50% of freshman fail college?

I remembered a post I wrote years ago after reading LA’s post called “Do We Owe Kids College?” There’s an interesting discussion in the comments about whether or not parents are obligated to pay for their kids college or not.

The post I remembered is below. The stats are shocking of how many kids fail. I wonder if it’s gotten worse since I wrote this?

Why Do Kids Fail College?

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools.You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

Swimmers on a recruit trip to Utah.
My daughter and friend on a recruit trip where they were allowed on the football field during a game.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:


Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure.


High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate, but to work and study in advance of deadlines.

A gorgeous location. UCSB.


We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real life experiences. Plus, some parents cater to their kids’ every needs—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.


Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.
My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

What can we do to help our kids be prepared for success in college? What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? I’d love to get your feedback.

15 thoughts on “Why do 50% of freshman fail college?

  1. First: No, parents do not owe their child a college education. Or a car. Or there first apartment. There, we can put that to rest. I am more in tune with #3. Parents are too protective. If you stifle your kids maturity while in high school, then they will not know how to act when they have no restraints. The get together at the local bar & grill will replace study time, and hanging out until one AM will replace sleep. They use that freshman year to “spread their wings” rather than tend to their studies. This was me. I was hardly ready for college at 18. I eventually went back to school and plowed through an MBA, but that was when I was retired from the Army and in my early 40’s.

  2. I let my daughter drive the bus. She chose her schools (that’s a nyc public school thing) choose her courses, pick her extras, etc. but I supported her efforts 100%. Too many parents set unrealistic expectations aboit what they, the parent, wants as opposed to the student. In Middle school I told my daughter that I didn’t care what grades she got…I told her it didn’t change my life at all if she got a c or an a. However I told her that I didn’t study and it made my life path job wise twice as hard. We don’t allow kids to make their own choices/decisions. Sometime they need to learn the hard way. And college isn’t and shouldn’t be a requirement to get a job. We need to stop companies to list college as a requirement unless there is very specific learned knowledge needed, such as science, engineering or accounting. The average marketing person is learning on the job and their classes in film studies won’t help

    • I was way more hovering than you! Your daughter is thriving in part to her own self and for you giving her freedom earlier on. I agree that many jobs should not require a college education.

  3. When I was growing up, I was forced to go to college. Needless to say, I dabbled in this and that then quit when I could. I went back later because I Wanted to and received my AA Degree. College needs to be a personal decision.

  4. Like my husband, I was an older student getting my MA in Linguistics and an honor student in graduate school. For my undergraduate, I received a full ride based on grades and economic need. However, my gpa was not honors but still good. I did not party but had a part time job and it took some adjusting to the new campus near NYC and all the personalities, options, and of course, school work.

    • I took classes as an adult at our local college. I have to say it was much easier for me than when I went to college right out of high school. because of everything you and your husband mentioned. I worked and went to parties. It made everything harder.

  5. I think my son has a great plan (he’s 16). He wants to take a year off to travel and save more money from the job he has (he puts aside 100 a paycheck every pay period right now). Then he wants to go to community college for his basics and then go to a local 4 year school to complete his degree. Smart kid in my opinion!

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