With the academic year well underway, and the first tertiary exams looming for 2017's rookie students, many of them are having to face up to the fact that things are not going as they imagined when they entered varsity at the beginning of the year, and the possibility that they may become a drop-out statistic. But an education expert says it is never too late to turn away from impending disaster, and that there are ways in which young students can overcome challenges to get them back on track.
"Many of the challenges faced by first years can be ascribed to one or a combination of the seven hazards that most commonly confront students," says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
Statistics vary, but it is estimated that as many as 60% of students drop out during their first year. Of those that do make it through their first year, it is estimated that only half of them eventually graduate.
"Apart from failing, which have substantial implications for students and their families, many students don't just fail academically, but drop out completely," says Kriel.
"However the good news is that it is not too late for first years who feel that they are losing their grip to do something about it," he says.
Kriel says most students struggling at this stage may be doing so because of one of the seven stressors generally found in the first year:
1. DIFFICULTY ADJUSTING TO THE ACADEMIC CLIMATE
You have been selected at the institution of your choice, but right from the start you find it difficult to fit in. You feel that you are not keeping up at the same level of performance as your fellow students.
The reality is that many of your classmates are probably feeling the same, so it is always a good idea to talk to someone you trust about your experience and feelings.
Having said that, some people simply just find fitting into the traditional university environment a challenge – larger classes, less rigid structure and so forth. If you are 100% sure that you fall into this category, it is worth investigating your alternatives, for instance in private higher education where classes are generally smaller, or distance learning.
2. ACADEMIC UNPREPAREDNESS
Our schooling system doesn't always adequately prepare learners for higher education, and some students struggle rising to the challenge of higher academic demands. If you feel overwhelmed, speak to your institution's support centre. Any good institution will have measures and programmes in place for this kind of scenario.
3. WRONG CHOICE OF QUALIFICATION
Most of us have a dream – to be a lawyer, pharmacist, engineer, doctor or teacher (or whatever the case may be). But it is important to be realistic as well. If you barely passed maths at school and are now pursuing a degree where maths is a key factor for success, you may want to reconsider your options. It is better to make a change sooner rather than later, and often you will be able to carry over some credits from one study path to another.
4. WORKING WHILE STUDYING
Many students have to work part-time. On the one hand, this will benefit a student not just financially, but also later when experience can be indicated on their CV. On the other hand, the additional responsibility and time demands can negatively impact studies.
It is therefore important to plan your days very well if you are a working student. For instance, when you have gaps between classes, use this time as constructively as possible. Spend this free time in the library doing homework, pre-reading for an upcoming lecture or engaging with other students in your class on the topics covered in the lecture.
5. PERSONAL ISSUES
Sometimes unexpected life events can throw up a major obstacle, for instance death in the family or serious illness. When these occur, speak to your institution's support team as soon as possible and get the help you need, whether that is to put your studies on ice for a while, delaying assessments, or getting psychological care.
When personal problems are of a less serious nature, for instance being dumped by someone you thought were the love of your life, try to objectively assess the importance of this event in the greater scheme of things, and don't let it ruin your future.
6. LACK OF ACADEMIC SUPPORT, ADVICE AND GUIDANCE
Any good institution must be able to offer their students advice and support services. Unfortunately, many students are either not aware of these services, or don't make use of them when needed. Whatever your problem is, the chances are extremely good that the professionals who are there to help you have seen and supported many students before you who dealt with the same. So whether your issue is personal or academic, seek out the people who are there specifically to help people like you.
7. THE PARTY LIFE
Having fun and partying is an integral part of being a student, but too many first years go off the rails because of their almost unlimited new freedom. If things have gotten out of control, stop the train and stop it now. Get back to your books and your sanity by focusing on what your original goal was, and by visualising your future. And yes, your institution's support structures should be able to help you even with this problem.