Ian Quayle finished high school with a 3.0 GPA and a good score on his ACT. He was accepted into the University of Idaho and enrolled there to pursue a degree in anthropology. As the school year progressed, he began to second guess his readiness for college. Within a few months, he stopped attending his classes and ended up failing most of them. By the end of the year, he had given up on college and left Moscow.
Quayle is just one of many university students who do not return to college after attending their first year. Transitioning from high school to college brings with it changes to a student’s academic habits and how well a student adjusts is critical to first-year success.
“The classes I took in college didn’t look anything at all like what I’d done in high school,” Quayle said. “Nothing was the same. Even the style of homework was different. High school was a joke for me. I didn’t have to work hard and I did fine, but college was a totally different experience.”
Not an isolated issue
A study done by researchers at ACT found that 28 percent of freshmen at four-year, private universities like BYU failed to return for their sophomore years. This means that more than a fourth of a university’s incoming class can be expected to drop out or transfer schools before the next school year. While BYU does not escape freshman attrition, it does retain a much higher percentage of freshman students than other universities in its category. In 2011, BYU returned 85 percent of the previous year’s freshmen–13 percent higher than the national average.
“BYU does a great job of retaining new students by providing peer mentor support during the crucial transitioning from high school to college,” said Dr. Fred Pinnegar, associate director of BYU’s freshman mentoring program.
“Peer mentors answer questions, provide a listening ear and connect students with campus resources they may not know exist.”
While BYU is not the only university with a new-student mentoring program, it does have the largest of any private institution.
Why new students struggle
“Students coming to BYU from high school are used to being the best in their classes,” Pinnegar said. “They have incredibly high GPA’s and ACT scores, but they do not always develop good study habits and skills, like reading, note taking and managing their time.”
New students on campus balance work, social lives, academics and sleeping in a new, independent environment. Learning how to adjust to be successful in all of those phases can be difficult for any new student.
“I ended up having to drop most of my classes,” said sophomore Mike Bell, who was placed on academic warning his first year. “I liked playing video games and hanging with my friends but didn’t balance them well with school. In the middle of all the fun, I fell behind in my homework and stopped doing well in my classes.”
A student taking 15 credit hours would be expected to be in class for 15 hours a week, study two hours for each of those credit hours and get adequate sleep each night. Factoring in 15 hours of work, a student would find very little room for wasting time during the week.
For freshman students who didn’t have to study much in high school, this might come across as a tall order. The university’s freshman mentoring program aims at helping student tackle time management.
The impact of mentoring
“We have about 100 mentors in our office who are assigned to work with new students during their first year at BYU,” Pinnegar said. “Their task is to make the transition from high school to college as smooth as possible by combating common freshman problems that may lead students to give up on their university experience.”
Mentors meet with students regularly to talk about issues they might be facing and how they can best work through them together.
“A mentor provides support throughout a student’s first year at BYU,” said peer mentor Emily Rawlins. “As a mentor, I’ve connected students to campus resources they didn’t know about and, at other times, I’ve listened as students discussed study strategies with me. No matter a student’s background, freshman year is an adjustment and mentors exist to make sure students succeed.”
Students can contact their mentors at any time for tips or answers to questions. Mentors provide study techniques and time management ideas while serving as an experienced, upperclassman friend.
“I remember looking at the score monitor after my first chemistry exam,” said Claire Thomas who was a freshman last year. “It hurt a little bit to see my score. In high school, tests had always been no big deal to me, but now I realized I needed to work a little bit harder. My mentor was around to help me understand that.”
If an incoming class were to have 5000 students, BYU would return 650 more students for their sophomore year than would the average university and mentors are dedicated to raising that number even more.
“One minute we’re in our hometowns, the next we’re dropped into Provo,” Thomas said. “We’re just freshmen! It’s really nice to know that there’s someone around who knows what’s going on.”
Quayle is now working full time to save up money to pay for his return to college in the future. One year on campus and some real-life experience, he said, have helped prepare him for this time around.
“I think I’ve learned what it takes to succeed in college now that I’ve been on my own for a while,” Quayle said. “It just seemed like too much at the time. I wish my school had done more to help me adjust.”