Avoid Common College Pitfalls

Why do so many university freshmen flunk out their first year? Here are the most common pitfalls

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Here’s a story about two students. Their names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Jim’s story

Jim graduated from high school with decent grades and earned a state scholarship to Georgia Southern University. His proud father bought him a brand-new truck. When signing the papers, Jim did not pay much attention to the terms of the sale or his father’s expectations.

Jim got caught up in Georgia Southern’s party scene. The newfound freedom of not having a curfew and being able to meet with his peers whenever he wanted went to his head. He skipped classes and didn’t do his homework. Instead, he devoted most of his time to attending informal events that involved meeting up with students who were off task. 

When Jim partied too much and came home at Christmas with all D’s and F’s, his father immediately announced that Jim could take over payments on the truck. Dad was visibly angry with Jim for squandering his first semester. 

Jim then learned that he was legally the owner of his truck and responsible for every payment. Because the truck was purchased new, he could not sell it for the amount of his debt. In order to make the payments, Jim had to get a job off campus that kept him up late at night. 

Because he was working at night, he had trouble getting up in the mornings. He slept through many classes, fell behind, and flunked another semester. Against the advice of student services, Jim solved his problems by quitting school and joining the army. 

Shelly’s story

Shelly went to the same school as Jim and she was a freshman the same year. She had the same state scholarship that Jim had. Shelly made mediocre grades her first semester and, in November, she was busted for marijuana possession in her dormitory room. 

She was kicked out of the university’s dormitory and lost her state scholarship. Her parents rallied around her, found her an apartment off campus, and dug deep into their own pockets to pay her next semester’s tuition. They continued to support her financially through the next four years and she was able to graduate with a business degree. 

The moral of these stories is: Know your parents and their limits. 

Know your parents

Some parents are patient and understanding, and they will stand by you even if you make some really poor choices. Other parents expect that, if you are mature enough to leave home, it’s time for you to start acting like an adult. 

Few students can complete a four-year degree without some parental help, usually financial help. Be sure you and your parents are on the same page about what you all expect from your college education. 

Talk to your parents about what happens if, god forbid, you fail a course or get into trouble with the administration. Have a clear picture of how much support you can expect from them if things don’t go according to plan. 

Stay off social media

You belong to the virtual age. But you can twitter and instagram your way straight into failure if you are not careful with your internet usage. There is a time and a place for social media and limits to what you want to reveal about yourself. Here are some guidelines.

Don’t say rude things about your school, professors, coaches, or fellow students on any social media platform. If you think your coaches, fellow students, and professors are internet illiterate, you are mistaken. They are reading your posts. 

Could you be dismissed from college for bad behavior on social media? Possibly. The first amendment clearly protects your opinions of students in the United States, but it protects you from being imprisoned, but from being thrown out of your college or university. 

To know exactly what will and will not be tolerated, you have to read your student handbook very, very carefully. Some schools have rules against bullying and any kind of hate language. And these behaviors can be very liberally construed. In other words, something you think is a joke could be construed as bullying. 

Even college presidents keep a close eye on social platforms, jealously guarding their institution’s online reputation. While it’s true that it’s a free country and what you write online is protected by the first amendment, be aware that it can turn a professor or dean against you. Some coaches will make an entire team run laps because of a single snarky tweet that comes out of a college athlete’s laptop. You can lose friends and even jobs over ill-considered online comments.

Building your reputation starts in college

Do not post pictures of yourself that do not positively represent you to any part of the internet. Everybody does some underage drinking. Attending a party that features underage drinking is not special enough to put on your Facebook page. Furthermore, be aware, painfully aware, that Facebook will turn around and sell those party pictures to your future employers. So–no photos of your naked butt or other body parts either. Act out your sexual and drinking exploits, by all means, but don’t document them.

If you are doing something dumb, possibly under the influence, make sure nobody is pointing a camera or phone at you. If you throw a party that features alcohol, cussing, and exposed lingerie, do not let your guests take pictures. Organize your event so that your guests check their phones at the door. 

Even at private parties where the guest list is carefully selected for discretion, you should organize a plan for staying safe. Use the KVA Plan to minimize risk during private events. 

Don’t surf porn on public computers, and don’t text in class

If you must surf internet pornography, do not do it on any public computer. That means not in the library, not in class, not on your friend’s laptop, not on any college-issued equipment. Keep it on your own personal laptop and clear the history and cookies frequently. Misuse of college equipment may or may not be a good reason for the administration to kick you out of college. You will have to study your student handbook.

Do not let your fellow students know that you surf pornography. Seemingly open minded peers will call you a pervert and your reputation will tank.

That brings us to the classroom. Students who sit in the back of the classroom and spend the entire period texting think they are invisible. They are not. 

If you are doing that, you need to understand that your professor can see that you are not paying attention. He or she may not care about that, but he or she can see you and may have already decided that you are not making a sufficient effort in the class. Do not think that you can text the semester away and then ask your professor for extra help. You have already burned that bridge. 

Some classrooms are equipped with computers. It’s hugely tempting to spend class time catching up with friends and surfing your favorite musicians. Don’t do it. Being off task during class is one of the easiest ways to make an enemy of your professor. Facebook on your own time. 

In conclusion, avoiding the above actions may seem like a matter of common sense. And yet a substantial number of college students are sent home, every year, because of these behaviors. Go to college with some guidelines in mind about how you will conduct yourself and how you will avoid the pitfalls that other students will fall into.

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