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Freshman Fall

Before long, freshman orientation will begin at colleges and universities across the country. Dorms will fill up and students will move away from home, many for the first time in their lives. Some joke that the hardest part of college is getting in, but staying in often proves far more challenging. As the Washington Post Education Review points out:

The members of the incoming Class of 2015 have been lectured on the value of a college degree for most of their lives. But getting that degree has never been more expensive, especially at a time when some families are dealing with unemployment, cut wages and other financial hardships. Record numbers of freshmen are arriving on campus already stressed out, and campus resources are stretched thinner by demand.

After enduring the college application process, some students then feel pressured to succeed at everything. [...] In 2010, more than 10 percent of students at more than 300 four-year institutions sought some sort of counseling, according to a survey of counseling center directors. These students are seeking help with issues including depression, sexual identity, eating disorders, sexual assault, anxiety, and drinking or drug dependency.


Not getting help increases the chance a student will take time off from school, transfer elsewhere or drop out.?The stakes are high. Making it through the first-year of college dramatically increases a student’s chances of graduating. Nationally, less than 60 percent of first-time students who start college graduate within six years, a statistic college presidents, education advocates and even President Obama are working to change.

Schools certainly are aware that “record numbers of freshmen are arriving on campus already stressed,” and everything from extensive orientation programs to one-on-one advising (GWU, for example, assigns each new freshman a “Guide to Personal Success, a faculty member or upperclassman who is available to answer questions, listen to problems or meet up for lunch”) is designed to address and lessen that fear. However, particularly in the latter weeks of the semester, students need to know about resources (from tutoring to counseling) in order to seek them out.

Low-income, first-generation-to-college students have never watched an older sibling or relative experience this transition and, in many cases, cannot turn to their parents for advice. For these students in particular, the entire experience can be both thrilling and utterly disorienting — which is why many college access programs now continue their services after access has been achieved. For example, Collegiate Directions, Inc. in Bethesda makes a six-year commitment to its high school juniors, providing support and guidance throughout their four years of college. Numerous Catalogue non-profits do the same, and the Posse Foundation even places students in supportive, multicultural teams (or “posses”) of ten students that act as traveling support systems.

For all students, the best kind of support is two-pronged: from school and from home. How can we ensure that all freshman have access to just that? That’s how they become seniors.

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