According to Statistics Canada, the university dropout rate in British Columbia is 18%. The Globe and Mail has reported the dropout rate to be as high as 25%. That is, one out of every four or five people who go on to post-secondary education drop out before graduation.
The same studies show that the vast majority of those dropouts happen in the first year.
In my own experience, having specialized in teaching first year courses for the past decade, the people who leave do so for a variety of reasons. Only a very few leave because of academic reasons. Most are dealing with financial issues, health issues, and personal issues. One of the biggest things I hear from and about students who leave is that “the fit just wasn’t right.”
So, what exactly does that mean? It does not mean that the student was not intellectually up to the task. More often than not, it means that the student was struggling to adjust to a new social setting. It means that unlike high school, it is very easy to become just a number, lost in a crowd of other students.
High schools tend to be small enough in size that if a student is struggling, it is noticed right away and support is made readily available. Students remain under the watchful eye of faculty and staff who know you by name. In most post secondary settings, the situation is different. It is not that the support is not there, it is just that in a lecture theatre of 300 or 400 students (or more!) where there is very little in the way of one-to-one interaction with the professor, it is much harder to stand out from the crowd.
This works in all directions, by the way. The marginal student, who tends to not say anything in class and struggles in silence, is easily overlooked. The bright student who is used to being at the top of his or her class is now just another student in a crowd of bright students. For many this can be a difficult adjustment to make. It can and does lead to elevated stress levels. These in turn lead to physical and emotional issues including illness and depression.
It is not a big leap from feeling sick and tired while at school to blaming that on “a poor fit” with the school. The evidence all seems to line up: “I was happy before, now I am not. This school is not right for me. I should leave.”
This seems like a reasonable line of thinking, but it is also in great error. It tends to miss the fact that the stress of things not being as you thought they would be is easily fixable with proper preparation. Without that preparation, it does not matter what school you attend, the feelings are likely to be the same. It might be tempting to conclude that “post-secondary education is not for me,” when a better option would be to say “I need to be properly prepared.”
The question then becomes, how do you prepare for something you have never experienced? It is far too easy to think you are prepared, when you are not. The best approach is to learn from someone who has been through it. This is why the Smooth Start program exists in the first place. This is why it has been made available - for your benefit.