Four Reasons Why Kids Fail Their Freshman Year

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

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.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

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

ONE

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.


TWO

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.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

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, we cater to our 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.

FOUR

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?

What can we do to help our kids be prepared for success in college?  I’ll talk to some more experts and will get back to you!  What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? I’d love to get your feedback.

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.

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An “F” in Parenting or One of My Worst Fails Ever

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

I got a phone call from my son. He told me he got an F in a class. This was during his freshman year of college. I was out of state for a training program for my new job. It was an intense five-day training where I was way out of my comfort zone, removed from parenting, or any thoughts about my college child.   

When my son called it was a jolt. I had the strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach. An “F?” How could that be? Less than a year ago, he had given an amazing valedictorian speech for his high school.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

I confided this shocking news to a new friend in training with me. He had been a counselor at a major university in a prior career and he told me that my son could get the F removed from his record. He could:

1. Talk to his professor.

2. Retake the class.

3. Talk to people in administration and explain his extenuating circumstances.

That made me feel a little bit better. I called my son and told him “he had to take care of this.” He could never get into graduate school with an F on his record.

I thought about this incident today. I woke up this morning with a stabbing pain in my heart. I cannot believe I told that to my son. After writing weekly swim parenting articles for SwimSwam.com, one of my recurring themes is not focusing on the results. I talk about not looking at times (which translates to grades). It’s the process that counts. Let our kids learn from their mistakes. That’s what I keep saying.

I’m feeling like the worst parent in the world. I did not ask my son, “what is going on? What are you going through?” I didn’t offer support, or find out why he was failing.

My son with his dog, Angus.

My son with his dog, Angus.

I was more concerned with performance. I can’t believe I didn’t question if there was something going on in his life that I should know about. Was I more worried about “what people would say” rather than my son’s well being? 

Although I feel terrible and ashamed, I guess I can say that I’m still learning about parenting. I know for a fact that I used to be too focused on results and performance, rather than the process.

My son, who is in his fifth year of school, is doing great in all aspects of his life. Despite me being his mom, he’s healthy, happy and has learned from his mistakes. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, too.

My beautiful son when he was three.

My beautiful son when he was a toddler.

I Survived My Daughter’s First Year of College

My daughter's dorm at the U.

My daughter’s dorm at the U.

I can’t believe my daughter’s first year of college is over and my son is finishing his senior year! It’s been a strange year for me, being an ’empty nester,’ but a good one, too.

I’ve enjoyed having my own time to pursue my work without interruptions. I’ve made progress on several writing projects, plus I’ve established a good routine of writing, walking and swimming.

Signing day seems like yesterday!

Signing day seems like yesterday!

We loved visiting both kids this past school year. Santa Barbara is one of our favorite cities. Our son took time to spend with us, more than he has in the past three years. He even brought his girlfriend home for spring break.

Traveling for college meets was a blast. Our first dual meet was so exciting to watch! I will never forget my daughter swimming against Stanford in the 1000- and 500-yard free. I was a nervous wreck and I wondered why she had to swim such long races? It would be much easier getting through watching a 50 free than a 1000!

Last week, we drove up to Utah to move her out of her dorm room. A tiring 11-hour drive each way. I just want to know where did she get so much stuff? Did we pay for all of that? I couldn’t believe the trips we took of boxes, hanging clothes, mini-fridge, cleaning supplies, stuff and more stuff!

We moved the stuff into a house that she’s going to share with a few teammates. The landlord was kind enough to let us store her things inside, until her lease begins.

Still ahead, I have the adventure of furniture shopping with her. Yes, she’s going to need a bed, desk and a few more things. I hauled up my old pots and pans, dishes and towels for her house. After all, I have more than enough stuff in my house, too!

First, she’s home for a few days and we’ve got an action-packed schedule. Swim meet, visiting friends, vision and dental appointments, etc. I love having my kids home, but I’m also protective of my own time, too. I discovered that I enjoy my life as a mom, and also my life as an individual person, too.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the next few years are going to fly by!

Shopping at Target for the dorm freshman year.

Shopping at Target for the dorm freshman year.

To Thine Own Self Be True — Or Facing the Sad Truth that Kids Grow Up

My baby girl's first Christmas photo.

My baby girl’s first Christmas photo made it on the cover of the monthly parenting magazine.

My daughter is coming home for Christmas break tomorrow. I’m excited and a little anxious. Her last final is today for her first semester of college out of state. I’ll admit that I stalk her on Facebook and Twitter. She doesn’t look like the same little girl who left for college in August. When I talk to her on the phone, she doesn’t sound the same, either.

I remember going to orientation with her last July at the University of Utah. There was one talk I especially liked, “Supporting your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development.

Ellingson said that during the freshman year our kids learn to become themselves. They will be grieving and letting go of high school friendships, but will build new and deeper ones. A main developmental issue is finding their identity. Their core stays the same, which has been developing over the past 18 years. But, how they express themselves changes. They may try on new identities by copying new friends to see how it fits or feels.

You may say to yourself, and hopefully not to your child, “Who the hell is this?” Then you meet their new friend, and say to yourself, “Oh, now I see who this is!” Which makes me wonder — who has the ear cartilage piercings (and now my daughter asked about getting one!) Why does she tweet that she wants to dye her gorgeous red hair brown? Is this why she’s best friends with a couple teammates one week and then inseparable with a new one the following week?

Thanks to Ellison, I can see she’s quite normal. I may not like it. But, she’s trying out new things to find out who she is. It’s going to be my job to not make a big deal out of the little things. I can’t keep her my little girl forever.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

My daughter and teammates at 2006 Junior Olympics.

This is what I have to say about finding out who you are: “To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. Be your own person. I’m afraid she’s working too hard to fit in. By being herself, she’ll fit in where she needs to be. 

I am standing back and watching my little girl grow and develop into an independent grown-up woman. It’s not easy.

You can read more about the highlights of Ellison’s talk here and I wrote more about “To thine own self be true” in Three Things to Tell Your Daughter on Graduation Night.

Sailing in Santa Barbara.

Sailing in Santa Barbara.