The majority of college students do not earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. That’s less than 50%! Even after six years, less than 60% of college students succeed in earning a bachelor’s degree.
Here are several tips on how parents can increase their child’s chances of success in college based on my book, Who graduated from college? Who doesn’t?
Get better grades in high school. Hard work and commitment in high school tends to prepare students for success in college. Students with a higher high school grade point average (GPA) and better admissions test scores are more likely to earn a college bachelor’s degree. Students with an A average in high school are three times more likely to graduate from college than students with a C average. Test prep and tutoring can also be of benefit. Limit non-academic activities to no more than 2 hours per day.
Take challenging classes. Students in schools with a rigorous academic program or a college preparatory program are more likely to earn a college degree. Take Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, if available. Participate in dual-enrollment programs, where high school students take college courses at a local college.
Math matters. Students who take more math courses in high school are more likely to earn a university degree. It’s especially important to take math courses beyond Algebra 2, such as trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. Students who take math courses beyond Algebra 2 are more than twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Apply for financial assistance. Students who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are more likely to graduate. Students who win private scholarships, especially those earning more than $25,000, are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. Lack of money is the main reason students drop out of college.
Have a clear plan if you are attending a 2-year college and your goal is a 4-year degree. Community colleges are good options if your goal is an associate’s degree or certificate. If your goal is a bachelor’s degree, detouring to a 2-year college will require additional planning. Only about one-fifth of students who start at a 2-year college, intending to earn a bachelor’s degree, make it there within six years. This compares to two-thirds of students who start at a 4-year public or private nonprofit college. If you’re starting at a 2-year college, know what credits will transfer and how they’ll be processed so you don’t waste valuable time and money.
Enroll full-time in college. Students who enroll full-time are more likely to graduate, even accounting for the slower pace of part-time enrollment. They can focus more on academics. Students who enroll full-time in college are five times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree in six years than students who enroll part-time. Although taking 12 credits per semester is considered full-time, you must take (and pass) 15 credits per semester to graduate in four years.
Live on campus. Students who live on campus, rather than living in an off-campus apartment or with their parents, are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. Living on campus keeps you in the mix, allowing you to benefit from informal learning opportunities, like studying with friends and working on problem sets together.
Be careful when working full-time in college. There is a slight advantage to working a part time college work, perhaps because it requires students to learn time management skills. But the emphasis should be on part-time, if possible for the student. Students who work full-time are half as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree as students who work 12 hours or less per week. Conflicts between school, home, and work life are one of the main reasons students drop out of college. However, some students may need to work more than 12 hours to help pay tuition. Make sure you have a good plan on how to organize home, work, and school commitments.
Do not transfer to another college or change academic majors. Students who switch programs are less likely to graduate on time, if at all. Not all credits will count toward the new major or transfer to the new college, so the student will lose progress toward their degree. It will also increase college costs.
Don’t take a gap year or delay your college enrollment. Some students never return from a gap year. When they come back, only about half will end up getting a bachelor’s degree. Taking time off, or stopping, will also reduce college graduation rates.
Get involved and set high expectations. Students are more likely to earn a college degree if their parents are involved in their education and expect them to graduate. Start by creating an academic environment that emphasizes academics. Join the PTA and participate in their programs. Attend parent-teacher meetings. Make sure your student is engaged in high school and college. If they feel like they belong, they are more likely to graduate. The student’s peers may also influence their expectations of the highest level of education attained.
If the parents do not have a bachelor’s degree themselves, encourage the student to find a role model who does have a bachelor’s degree.
Become financially competent. When students and parents know how to manage their money, instead of letting their money manage them, the student is more likely to graduate from college. Learn more about saving, budgeting, and borrowing. Assess colleges based on net price, which is the difference between total college costs and donations, such as grants and scholarships. If your school or college doesn’t offer financial literacy courses, there are plenty of free courses available online. Look on the US Department of Education Financial Literacy for All for a good guide to online resources.