Life as a College Student Athlete: Keeping the Right Perspective

     It seems that a lot has been written about student-athletes in college, but often this writing skips past the challenges that these individuals face balancing their lives. No matter what the sport, big time men’s basketball or less publicized women’s tennis, student athletes have a difficult task negotiating the academics and athletics. Over my 30 years as a Professor, I have taught and supervised hundreds of student-athletes. I have talked to them a bit about dealing with college with dual-demands, but I never took the time to really understand how these individuals manage their lives. For this post, however, I talked at length with Jenny Schaper, a star catcher on the University of Kentucky women’s softball team (coached by Rachel Lawson) to try and uncover what it is like to be a college student athlete. Below is our conversation.

Dr. Golding: How do you manage your athletic and academic schedules?

Jenny: I have a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings. I’m pretty much used to it now. It was a lot harder when I was a freshman to manage everything because freshman year you had to have mandatory 8 study hall hours a week on top of class and practice and adjusting to college life so I think freshman year was a lot tougher. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned my own time management techniques.

Dr. Golding Did anyone ever tell you about time management skills?

Jenny: We have an academic advisor and she’s really helpful. Freshmen go through orientation, where they’re talked to about grades, time management, getting your work done, all that kind of stuff, I think that’s really helpful. But it is a lot on yourself just figure it out and kind of learn as you go. There’s usually about five or six other girls in an incoming class who are doing the same thing as you. Our coach actually made us fill out time sheets our freshman year. The day was broken up into 30-minute segments every day, and you had to write what you were going to be doing every thirty minutes of the day. I know, it’s a little excessive, but it helped you think about what you had to get done. Stuff like that was really helpful.

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Dr. Golding: Have there been times where you had to make a decision between studying, for example, and going to practice, or working out on your own? Or do you find that you manage things so well that that doesn’t really come up?

Jenny: You never really have to pick one or the other. Our coach, personally, is really good about school coming first. She’s a very big believer in that. Just last week, one of our girls was struggling a little bit with her grades, so the coach didn’t take her on our away trip so she could stay and do schoolwork. I guess there was a choice where she picked academic over athletic, but personally, I’ve never had to not participate in something in order to get schoolwork done.

Dr. Golding Do you talk to your professors about being an athlete?

Jenny: Most don’t ask. You’re the one who asks about it. I’ve never had any professors have issues with it, but girls on my team have.

Dr. Golding: Professors who said that your teammates couldn’t miss class?

Jenny: Yes. My roommate this year—a professor told that she should quit softball to take the class more seriously. And she’s a 4.0 student, so it’s not like it’s causing problems. She stayed in the class. She was like, “I’m going to prove her wrong, I’m going to show her that I can do it.”

Dr. Golding Are you ever jealous of students who aren’t participating in sports?

Jenny: Sometimes, especially around the holidays I get very jealous. We have to come back January 2 every year, just to start practicing. We get about two weeks for Christmas, which is nice, but most students get about a month. We’ve never gotten a spring break. Plus, I stay here over the summer just to work out. Definitely, at times like that, yes I’m jealous. I’m not so much jealous of the party scene, but just of having free time.

Dr. Golding: When you’re here in the summer, you can’t have an actual job, right?

Jenny: You can, but you just have to register it. And you can’t get any special perks. That’s a really big violation.

studentAthlete-studying.jpgDr. Golding: You’re a junior now. What advice would you give to freshmen about how they have to think about being in college, because it’s so different from being in high school?

Jenny: You have to know yourself, and you have to understand what kind of student and worker you are. The most important thing is your choices. You could choose to sit down and do your homework, or you could choose to hang out with your friends. It’s about where you want to succeed in life. One thing I remember my coach saying was that in college you can be good at athletics, academics, or partying, and she said you can be good at two out of the three, but you can’t be good at all three. So it’s your priorities, really.

Dr. Golding: What keeps you so motivated to do well? A lot of students who aren’t athletes could learn from the athletes.

Jenny: I think that being an athlete has taught me how to work hard for things, and that things aren’t just going to be given to you. You have to actually earn them. I think very highly of myself and of the people I like to associate myself with. I take a lot of pride in being able to be a successful athlete and a successful student, and I think that just being able to say that I do it and I do it well is important to me.

After talking to Jenny (and I hope you will agree), I have a much greater appreciation for what it is like to be a student athlete, and the demands you must deal with to succeed both academically and athletically. Of course, thanks to Jenny and best of luck to her as she moves on to her senior year!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Dealing with the Cost of Textbooks

At this time of year, rising freshmen either are having summer orientation or are about to, and they will certainly hear about something all students have to think about each semester—the cost of textbooks. This is not a small matter, because textbooks can end up costing hundreds of dollars each semester, and it seems that each year the cost of textbooks is a bigger and bigger chunk of college expenses. When I was in college, amazingly 40 years ago, there really was no question—everyone bought the textbook for each class. Of course, things have changed a lot over the years, and you now have several options to consider when dealing with textbook costs.

Before making any decisions concerning textbooks, be clear whether each of your classes requires a textbook. This information is always in the syllabus for each class, but you can also check with your college bookstore to see what is required. Remember that classes may: (a) have no required textbook; (b) require you to buy a physical textbook (new or used), an ebook of the textbook, or either; (c) require you to buy a new physical textbook that includes a digital code for online access to certain information; or (d) may not require a textbook, but recommend a textbook. In this last case, you may have to wait a few weeks to determine whether you need to be reading the textbook.

If you do have a required textbook, there are several ways to deal with costs. I will list each way and give a few advantages and disadvantages of each.

1) Buy a new physical textbook

Advantages

  1. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  2. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other course
  3. you have access to it all the time
  4. you might find it easier to read a physical textbook

Disadvantages

  1. most expensive of all the ways to deal with textbook costs, although you can reduce your costs by buying from Amazon or other online book dealers, and directly from the publisher—school bookstores are usually the highest priced for buying and renting textbook
  2. if you sell back your textbook, you will only receive a percentage of the original cost of the textbook—this percentage will decrease if the textbook is damaged (including writing/highlighting) or if a new edition is being published soon
  3. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  4. can be stolen

good grades-books2) Buy a used physical textbook

Advantages

  1. much cheaper than buying a new textbook
  2. used textbooks can be purchased from the same places as new textbooks
  3. you can write in it, bend back tops of pages, etc.
  4. a textbook in your major may be worth keeping, as well as textbooks that help you with other courses

Disadvantages

  1. although you can sell back a used textbook, but you will likely receive much less than selling back a new textbook—this amount will depend on the textbook’s condition (including writing/highlighting in the textbook) or if a new edition is being published soon
  2. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy
  3. can be stolen

3) Buy an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is much cheaper than buying the physical textbook
  2. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library—you can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  3. cannot be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  2. you cannot sell it back
  3. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  4. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are good for the semester you bought it for

4) Rent a physical book

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. if you decide to buy your rental textbook at the end of the semester, you can typically do so

Disadvantages

  1. if you damage a rental textbook (e.g., writing/highlighting in it) you will be charged the full price of the textbook
  2. there are usually strict deadlines for turning the rental textbook back in
  3. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  4. can be a pain to bring to class or the library–textbooks are usually quite heavy

5) Rent an ebook

Advantages

  1. it is significantly cheaper than buying a new physical textbook or ebook
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—renting typically leads to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class, but can access the ebook as long as you can get to a computer
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. sometimes rental companies do not have the edition you need
  2. you need a computer to read it, and some people do not like reading on a computer
  3. you cannot sell it back
  4. you cannot write directly in an ebook
  5. you cannot keep it—most ebooks are only good for the semester you bought it for

girlread-868786_6406) Share a textbook or ebook with one or more classmates—an option that I feel more students should at least consider

Advantages

  1. may be the cheapest way to deal with costs, depending on the number of students who share with you
  2. may promote working with others
  3. you are being environmentally conscious—sharing (at least for physicaltextbooks) will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, and more trees
  4. you do not have to be in control of the textbook at all times

Disadvantages

  1. coordinating how the textbook will be shared can be difficult, and may lead to you not having the textbook when you need it
  2. the writing/highlighting in the textbook by others may negatively impact your reading and studying
  3. each member of your “sharing group” may be required to bring the textbook to class on certain days, but that will be impossible

7) Reading a textbook that your Instructor puts on reserve at the library or another site on campus—does not occur that often

Advantages

  1. no cost
  2. you are being environmentally conscious—reading a reserve copy will lead to fewer textbooks, less paper, more trees
  3. you do not have to bring the textbook with you to class or the library
  4. will not be stolen

Disadvantages

  1. you can only get access to the textbook when the textbook’s location is open
  2. you cannot write in the textbook
  3. others may be reading the textbook when you want to read it
  4. you cannot keep it

So there you go. It is a lot to think about, but important, because as I said earlier, textbook costs will be a constant during your years in college. Think about what will work best for you. Good Luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Get Involved!!!

Now that you are in college, it is very important that you do not just sit around and keep to yourself. I understand that there are times you need to be alone (think studying!), and other times you want to be by yourself to read, workout, watch a movie, etc. However, it is VERY important that you get involved in various activities on campus. Even if you have a job, there are sill ways you can get involved to take full advantage of your college experience. As a former 2 and 3 job undergraduate, I can tell you that it was a critical aspect of my college experience to be a part of campus life.

With that said and before moving on to the reasons to get involved, here is one way I participated on campus. As you can see I was the school mascot for my college. Yes, that’s me as the Temple Owl in 1981—hard to believe!!!!

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The key to getting involved in various activities is that it really is the case that college is more than just going to class. College is a time to grow, both intellectually and personally. Getting involved in activities adds to that growth. So, here are 7 reasons for why you should get involved:

1) You will make friends. By joining a club, you automatically increase the chances you will make new friends. Sitting in your room playing video games isn’t going to give you the opportunity to meet others, nor is constant studying in a library study room. Remember, the friends you make in college can last a lifetime. The more people you meet, the more friends you make, and the more you can have fun doing things on and off campus.

2) It is good for your mental and physical health. The evidence is pretty convincing that being around others is good for various aspects of your health. For example, when you interact with others in a campus activity you’ll feel better about yourself, and give yourself potential sources of support.

3) You will actually learn new things. I know you may not want to hear it, but college involves learning both in and out of the classroom. So even when you are not sitting in a lecture with 500 other students, getting involved gives you the chance to learn something new. This may be how to play a new sport if you decide to join a rugby club or what are new methods of recycling if you join a student environmental group.

people-2557396_12804) You can boost your resume. I don’t want to get too crazy about this, but there is nothing wrong with listing various college activities on your resume. You should list those activities that really say something about who you are. Employers and graduate and professional school selection committees look at your college activities. I was in the National Psychology Honor Society (PSI Chi) when I was an undergraduate—listing this organization on my resume was important when I was applying for grad school in psychology.

5) You can get involved with community service. There are many activities on campus that will offer you the opportunity to work in the community. This could include being involved with philanthropic activities tied in to a sorority, campus political organizations that promote citizenship (e.g., voter registration), or various other clubs who work with community organizations (e.g., Habitat for Humanity,). It’s great to know that for many of you who have been involved in community service before college, the chance to continue your involvement in the community can continue.

6) You can gain insight about your ultimate career goal. College is a time to explore possibilities, and to figure out what you want to do after graduation. If you have an interest in something, join a club or activity that matches your interest and see where it leads. It’s possible that your involvement in a particular club or activity will be the catalyst for your future career.

7) You get a chance to experience diversity. In most cases, whatever club or activity you get involved with will involve students of various national origins, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, political views, and more. For some of you, this may be your first opportunity to interact with people who are really different than you. Take advantage of this opportunity!

I hope you will take my advice and get involved on campus—you won’t regret it!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With Grades After Finals

Congratulations on finishing the semester! Of course, I hope things went well and that you are satisfied with all of your grades. However, I know that there are going to be some of you who are not happy. I mean, not happy at all.

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As I see it, there are usually 4 types of unhappy students at the end of the semester. Student 1 is unhappy as the result of not performing as well as they expected. These are the students who expected to earn an A, but they got a C. Moreover, they realize that their performance did not warrant an A–their C actually reflects what they should have received.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 1: I am sorry to say that if you are like Student 1 there is not much you can do. Your grade reflects your performance. If you did not perform well, either because you thought the class was too hard or you did not put in enough effort, I do not see any way your grade is going to be changed. My best advice is to consider repeating the course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/03/21/is-repeating-a-course-a-good-idea-definitely/).

Student 2 is unhappy because they believe that their grade was incorrectly calculated based on the criteria presented in the syllabus. Remember, the importance of your syllabus. Not only does it make clear all of the rules of the class, but also it should specify exactly how grades are determined. If your syllabus says each exam is worth 25%, then each exam is worth 25%. Neither you nor your Instructor can change the rules at the end of the semester. If you calculate your grade and you see that Exam 1 was weighted 20% and Exam 3 was weighted only 10%, you have every right to be unhappy.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 2: If your grade was calculated incorrectly you should take action. This means:

1) Contact the Instructor immediately. Do not wait until you get back from break. The sooner you deal with this, the better. I’ll add that when I hear from a student right away I know this student is really concerned about their grade.

2) If possible, contact the Instructor face to face. Of course, this may be impossible if you get your final grade after you have left campus.

3) Get all your facts together and be prepared to present a convincing case. Make sure you double-check your calculations to be sure that there was a mistake. It would probably do you well to have another person look over the calculations to be sure you did them correctly. When you actually communicate with your Instructor I feel you should be ready to go through your calculations in a very systematic fashion to show them where mistakes were made.

4) MOST IMPORTANT! Be civil. No matter how you contact your Instructor, do so in a way where you are courteous, polite and respectful. You will get nowhere with your Instructor (except asked to end the conversation!) if you raise your voice, do not give your Instructor a chance to speak, or use foul language. Be calm, and let the facts guide the conversation. Let me add that you might think that you cannot be rude in an email—think again. I am amazed by the rudeness I see in an emails sent to me.

Student 3 is unhappy because they feel that certain graded components (e.g., assignments, reaction papers, exams) that comprised their overall grade were graded too low.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 3: Same as for Student 2, except you will need to have some way of presenting a case for why you were graded unfairly. This can be quite difficult, especially with graded components that are more subjective (e.g., an essay exam). I feel you have every right to ask your Instructor to justify your grade by making clear exactly why a certain amount of points were deducted. What might help your case is if your Instructor gave out a grading rubric that you can use to justify why you thought you should not have lost certain points.

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Student 4 is unhappy because they feel that somehow their grade does not reflect their performance and effort in the class. This is the student who just missed out on the next highest grade. A “silver medalist” like this is caught between wishing they had tried just a bit more in the class and hoping that their Instructor might offer them the few points they need to obtain a higher grade.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 4: If you are Student 4 this is a really tricky situation that must be approached very strategically. As above, contact the Instructor immediately, try to meet with the Instructor face to face, and be civil. Keep in mind that you should not be “begging” for a grade. Based on my own 29 years of experience and my discussions with faculty colleagues, this type of behavior simply will not work; if anything, begging will lead an Instructor to stop the discussion and make clear that there is no chance of additional points. My view is that if this is you, be prepared have some case to make. For example, you might have grades that show a steady increase through the semester, thereby showing a greater mastery of the material. I will caution you that if you state that your grade must be raised because you will lose a scholarship or be put on probation is typically not going to sway a lot of faculty.

I hope it is not you who is unhappy after the semester. But, as I described above, if it is you remember that there are ways to increase your chances of ending up with a better grade. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Dealing With A Death While In College

What could be worse? You’re in the middle of the semester, and suddenly you find out that someone you know has died. Of course, you will be in shock and very sad. What makes everything more difficult is that at some point you have to make some big decisions about how to deal with this death amid everything going on with school. I hope to offer you some pointers about this, so that if you are hit with the news of a death you are better prepared to manage things. Keep in mind that these are tough issues to discuss:

1) You will likely need to consider your relationship to the deceased. Is it one of your parents, a grandparent, relative, or a friend? The importance of this question is tied to the degree that you feel you are obligated or want to be involved with things like the funeral as well as seeing and comforting others. For example, if one of the parents died you are going to want to leave immediately to go home. The last thing in your mind is school and whether you have some reading to do or need to take an exam. However, for certain relatives or people you know you might not feel as pressed to drop everything. In fact, you might decide that you do not want to attend the funeral, or that you may attend the funeral but plan on returning right away to campus.

death-cemetary2) At some point it would be best to contact your Instructors or someone from your school. With regard to the former, a quick email is probably enough to let your Instructors understand your situation. If you are able to tell them when you might return that is helpful. But, it may be the case that all you can do is tell each of them about the death, and that you will be in touch with them as soon as possible. With regard to contacting a school official, I have had students do this on several occasions. This can be a good strategy if you want to avoid having to contact multiple Instructors. An email to the Dean of Students or another administrator about your situation will make sure that all of your Instructors are informed of you absence from class or any other activities on campus.

3) As crazy as it may seem, you need to be prepared to show documentation of the death. I know, isn’t it bad enough you must deal with the death and now you have to supply a funeral notice or obituary? I agree, and I do not ask this of my own students. However, I have heard of a number of faculty members who in their quest to document all absences require this information from their students. I should add that I have heard about this more in cases of deaths of friends and somewhat distant relatives. Although you might find being asked for proof of the death to be offensive, the academic rules of your school typically allows an Instructor to ask for this information.

4) Related to #3, it would probably be useful for you to find out what are the rules of your school regarding excused absences. For example, your school may only allow an excused absence when there is a death in your immediate family. This would not include certain relatives or other important people in your life, such as friends. I know this sounds unfair, but you will have to do your best to deal with these rules. For example, you will need to talk to each of your Instructors and see where they stand with regard to the rules about excused absences. If an Instructor plays hardball and refuses to excuse you for work you missed (i.e., gives you a 0 on this work), you will have to decide whether to talk to others about your situation (e.g., the Chairperson of your Department, your Dean, the University Ombudsperson). Talking to another person may help you, but be prepared that these others may simply say that the Instructor of a class has final say on grading issues.

5) If you are allowed to make up work because your Instructor excused your absences due to the death, try to deal with this work as soon as possible. I know this may be difficult because your head just isn’t into it. Still, if possible, get this work done so you can get back on track and not fall too far behind. I will add that if you really are having a difficult time getting back to your studies you might considering withdrawing from school for a semester. This would a very difficult decision, but for your own mental health and to avoid receiving low grades because you just were not ready for school after the death a withdrawal may be the best alternative. This course of action would delay you only a bit, and you could come back the next semester stronger than ever. Finding out about this option will likely require you talking to an academic advisor or even the school Registrar.

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6) Do not be afraid to seek counseling to help you deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Regardless of who died, you will likely be affected in many ways. The effects may include difficulty in concentrating and sadness. Remember that a person who is aware that they need help in dealing with a difficult situation is showing strength, not weakness. There are likely to be resources on your campus that are available to you as far as helping you deal with this loss. These typically include a counseling center or other mental health professionals. You do not have to deal with your grief alone—others are there in your corner.

In closing, I hope you do not have to face the issue of death while you are in college. If you do, I hope the points I raised above will help you better understand the issues that you will face, and that the impact of this loss will be minimized as far as your college career.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

 

Special Guest Writer—Anthony Dotson (Director, University of Kentucky Veterans Resource Center): Soldier to Student – Good Luck!

Nationally, our student veterans are not being successful in attaining their academic goals. Early reports in 2010 put dropout rates at close to 88%. More recent “research” attempts to downplay the severity of the issue and claims that the majority of student veterans are indeed graduating. The majority is defined as a very narrow 51.7%. Not exactly a number worth celebrating. The reality is that student veterans are lagging behind their non-veteran counterparts on campus for several reasons, some related to transition issues and others related to the failure of DoD and the VA to adequately inform and protect those who serve.

soldier-departing-service-uniform-40820So before you decide to leave the military and put that hard earned education benefit to use, you should educate yourself and learn the lessons from those who have gone before you.

  1. Make sure college is really what you want to do. Not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful. I know that is shocking information and runs contrary to main stream media but the reality is that half of last year’s college graduates are under-employed. Meaning that they are working in jobs that do not require their degree. The trades are actually hurting for people right now. Heck, my HVAC guy makes far more money than I do, and I have two masters degrees!
  2. Choose the right form of higher education to meet your academic preparedness and your academic potential. There is a wide variety of higher education to choose from and they are not all created equal. Some focus on access and taking education to the people and thus have less stringent enrollment standards while others are very selective in who they admit. And unfortunately, there are others that are simply out to make money. I encourage you to enroll into the best school you can get admitted to.
  3. Online education sounds easy, but has a poor track record in actually graduating student veterans. Always ask about retention and graduation rates regardless of the type of higher education you select. The very best retention and graduation rates are in Private Universities followed by 4yr State Universities. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at the others, but you should know your odds going in. Another number to consider are loan default rates. If their graduates are defaulting, that means that they are not obtaining employment significant enough to pay off their debt.
  4. Don’t count on your Military Credit. Unless you are in the Air Force, your military credit will not likely move you any closer to your degree. While most schools “accept” military credit, in reality they simply recognize it as credit and will put in on your transcript as General Education credit. This type of credit does not count towards your electives or your degree requirements. In addition, too much of this type of credit on your transcript can actually work against you when it comes to financial aid. Look for military credit policies that only take the credit that will be applied towards your degree. You don’t need the fluff. And if you are wondering, the Air Force has the largest accredited community college in the country. Well played Air Force….well played.
  5. Know what Veteran and Military Friendly really means. Many schools want your GI Bill money and will go to great lengths to earn the title “veteran friendly”. Sadly, they may not be as friendly as their ranking or title implies. These titles are determined in most cases by the responses to survey questions. These surveys are created by folks who have never transitioned from the military to higher education so they include questions that sound good but have little to nothing to do with being veteran friendly. An example might be; “What percentage of the student body are veterans?”   The implication here is that the larger the number, the more veteran friendly the campus is. When in reality, they could be a very small school located outside the gates of a military installation. You can define veteran friendly however you like, I tend to define it as; “Student veteran success as measured by graduation rates.” After all, if they are not graduating, it doesn’t really matter how many veterans they have or how big their veterans’ center is.
  6. Finally, save some money. The transition out of the military may be a smooth one for many, but I assure you that life in the civilian world is not cheap. On top of that, the VA is not likely to pay you as promptly as you would like. Many student veterans struggle with finances early in the transition because they were “expecting” the VA to pay on time like DoD. The reality is that, that payment is often later than expected or needed. Having a reserve of 3 months’ rent will help you withstand the challenges with the VA. When you are looking at schools, see what they have in the way of emergency financial support.

solierpost-personwithpenbook-132922You have served your country honorably, now it is time to reap the benefits of a college education. Don’t throw that benefit away at a school that is not accredited, or one that has a poor track record of graduating students. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it sounds easy, beware! Obtaining a college degree is not supposed to be easy. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.