Five major factors you need to manage in college, Part 1
When students decide to withdraw from college, it often comes down to Centennial College Counsellor Eric Dunn to sign the forms. He's heard many different reasons for students leaving college, but he can usually narrow it down to five major factors: finances, program fit, personal issues, health and transportation. Some of the reasons he comes across are unavoidable facts of life, but others can be prepared for.
It's important to be aware of these factors before you begin college, as most of them can be avoided with a little advance planning. Hopefully, by discussing them here, you can become aware and prepared, and never have to face the possibility of withdrawal. The fact is that education is always worth completing, one way or another, and a post-secondary education will always benefit you in the long run.
One common theme running through each factor is communication. Centennial College's Counselling Centre is prepared to offer students advice and alternatives to leaving school. With that in mind, here are the five factors in detail, and what a student can do to keep them under control.
Financial problems can take a few forms, but they all boil down to a need on the student's part to research and plan their finances before heading to school. For example, students may be relying on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to pay the way. Unfortunately, a lack of research and preparation can leave a student with a tighter budget than they thought they'd begin with, due to OSAP not coming through, or running through it quicker than expected. Other times, students simply believe they're going to get more than they do.
"Sometimes students apply and enrol hoping to get OSAP," Eric explains, "and then they get the OSAP, and it's not as much as they thought, or as much as they need, so financial issues become a huge barrier for a student."
The way to prepare for this is simply to do your research, so you know exactly how much you're going to receive, and can plan accordingly. "They need to really explore what they're eligible for through OSAP," Eric says. "Educate yourself prior to coming about how much it will cost." Similarly, taking the time to look into scholarships can often yield more money than you think, and not all scholarships are based on academics or financial need (you can read more about myths surrounding scholarships here.)
Another general method to avoid financial problems is being clear about your living and transportation situation in advance. "Are you staying with your parents or relatives?" Eric asks. "That can be relatively inexpensive, costing you nothing. Or are you going to have to rent either a residence room here at Centennial or someplace close? Are you prepared to share accommodation? Because that's a little cheaper. But some people don't like to share accommodation."
An additional angle to the problem is whether or not a student is working, or even can work, something I've also discussed previously. Eric offers his own thoughts on the subject.
"Many of the programs we have are so academically rigorous, like nursing, paramedic, massage therapy, and some of the tech programs, that you really need a lot of time to do your studying. Some people think they can still work three days a week, and they really can't. A lot of people have to quit their jobs, or reduce their time down to one day of working, and the problem there, of course, is that can lead to financial difficulties. Folks really need to understand both their financial needs coming back to school full time, but also their time needs. If you're in a difficult program, it's pretty much a full time gig. You're going to be spending so much time studying that it makes working difficult. You need to take that into account prior to coming."
2) Program Fit
I've written on this subject before, but to sum it up, it's not uncommon for students to begin having doubts about whether or not their program is right for them. Sometimes, students will drop out for this reason, which, according to Eric, is totally unnecessary.
"It happens a fair bit," Eric admits. "The program's just not what they thought it was going to be. It's not what they want to do for the rest of their life, and that's a totally legitimate reason."
Instead of withdrawing, though, the Counselling Centre is capable of offering students alternatives, to help pick a stream that does fit them. Rather than dropping out, a student can simply figure out a program that works better for them. "We can do some career counselling with students," Eric says, "and help them determine what's a better program. And hopefully they figure that out earlier rather than later. Sometimes we get folks in their fourth semester saying I can't do this, this is not for me."
But students shouldn't simply suck it up and tough out a program they don't like, either, particularly if it's early in their academic career. "We would recommend strongly that if you're questioning even in your first semester," Eric says, "and you're wondering if this program is right for you, that you come and talk to a career counsellor. They can do some assessments with you to determine what's the better fit."
There are more factors to discuss, and we'll return on Friday with a look at the final three.
By Anthony Geremia