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Students Reveal Their Biggest Fears about College

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Many -- if not most -- high school students start thinking about college earlier every year. At least it seems that way. Regardless of when a high schooler starts to ponder college, the thought of something so different can spark uncertainties, which can lead to anxiety and, ultimately, to fears.


Fear of the unknown is common on many levels of life, even for crusty old adults. For teens, though, who have not yet been exposed to the broad spectrum of life's ups and downs, the thought of college can be fraught with uncertainty and even intimidation. Even current college students can fear college, even though they're already there.

This past week, I was reflecting on my own thoughts about college when I was in high school and in college, as well as those I noted about my children as they transitioned into collegians. Inspired by those memories, I did some research about "college fears" and found an interesting article that may help students and parents better understand what young people are experiencing these days regarding higher education.

The article Top 10 Fears Students Have About College: Student Debt Is Not #1! by Vidya Narayanan shares survey results of over 3,000 students who revealed what they feared most about college. Below, I'll list those top 10, along with some of Narayanan's and my own comments. See if any of these match any of yours. Narayanan writes a brief introduction:

Whether or not you've attended college, you probably agree that college is hard! But, do you know what worries students the most about college?

In order to understand this, we surveyed 3,000+ students (high school and undergraduate) across the country. Here are the top 10 fears students wrote about college.

10. Starting a New Life with No One I Know

Almost a third of the students surveyed checked this as one of their fears. Being away from family and all known friends is an intimidating beginning to life — this is a fear that may not get talked about a lot, but is felt by many!

I think this has a lot to do with the sense of being without a "safety net." At home, if you run out of money, for example, you can always get an advance from mom or dad, or even from one of your buddies. There's always someone who can offer help. Not so much so at college, where it may take a while to feel comfortable enough to seek help from a roommate or classmate.

9. Not Being Able to Positively Impact the World

It used to be that we wanted to graduate to get good jobs and make a living. The youth of today want to do a LOT more. They care about making a positive impact in the world and worry that they may fail in their pursuit of that goal.

Apparently, a lot of humanitarian idealists responded to this survey. Frankly, when I was in college, my main "fear" was getting enough credits to graduate and then get a decent job. That sounds self-centered, I know, but I'm encouraged that young people today are concerned about making a positive difference in the world. We parents should be encouraged by this.

8. Losing My S.O. over a Long-Distance Relationship Struggle

The dating culture today makes it impossible to find love. For people who are in loving, caring relationships, the thought of losing their significant other keeps them up at night!

I'm a bit surprised by this fear, in light of all the technology that's available to keep couples in touch 24/7. Texts, FaceTime, unlimited cell phone talk, etc. can go a long way to keep couples together. However, there are a lot of temptations lurking when an actual physical presence is not possible. "When the cat's away …" and all that.

7. Meeting the Wrong People Who Get Me in Trouble

As much as awareness runs high these days, dangers run deep as well. And students are afraid of falling into bad company!

This is a legitimate concern. Within my own family network, I saw a situation develop where a young man went to college and became addicted to hard drugs because of the crowd he befriended. What followed was a long, painful rehab, which was extremely challenging for his parents and siblings. I would rate this fear higher than number seven.

6. Not Being Able to Maintain Good Grades

Especially for people with good grades in high school, it is unnerving to be surrounded by brighter and more hardworking students that college might bring.

As I mentioned, I was concerned about grades and graduating on time. College is a lot harder than high school, because many professors think that their course is the only one you're taking and the workloads can pile up and make former straight-A students struggle to get by. I received my first "D" ever on an assignment my freshman year. Talk about culture shock!

5. Making New Friends

As astounding 65% of the survey participants wrote about their fears of being alone and not being able to make new friends! This is a real fear for most people seeking new friendships in their post-phone years.

That's a high percentage of concern. The good news is: Misery loves company. Thus, when these fearful students arrive on campus, they'll find that most everyone else (greater than 65 percent, in my opinion) feels the same way and this "anxiety camaraderie" will quickly melt away those fears. Friends made the first weeks of college many times remain friends for years after college.

4. Picking the Right College

It's literally like picking from dozens of seemingly great or mediocre or bad choices, depending on how you look at it. There are too many choices and too much information to be understanding which of these choices work for anyone!

Another reasonable concern. I see many threads on the College Confidential discussion forum about transfers. The cry, "I hate my college!" pops up more than it should, unfortunately. Making the wrong college choice is easy if you don't follow a best-practices approach. How to do that? Easy: Check out the many articles on CC about "college choice."

3. Being Accepted for Who I Am

Young adults increasingly develop their personalities early nowadays. They often understand who they are and want to be accepted for it. But with increasing displays of intolerance in various parts of the country, students are worried about being accepted in college. Nearly 85 percent of the students surveyed expressed this concern!

In my professional opinion, the biggest college factor these days working to quell this fear is "diversity." Colleges are striving to diversify their classes as much as possible in order to recognize individual differences. The result is that even if you feel you are "oddly unique" in some ways, you should find a welcoming atmosphere as your campus celebrates diversity.

2. College Fees and Debt

While student loans didn't top the list, it was a close second. No surprises there!

I would have rated this as number one, obviously. Maybe the article's title should have been: "Top 10 Fears Students Have About College: Student Debt Is Not #1 [it's #2]!" There's not much comment needed about this. The reality of graduating with $75,000 or more in student loan debt speaks for itself.

1. Choosing the Right Major

To our surprise, what topped the list with over 90 percent of the surveyed participants picking this as their top concern was choosing the right major! With the rapidly changing landscape of tech and business, it is not automatically clear what majors bring the best of career options and self satisfaction all at the same time. Students worry about picking the wrong major and having to drop out. Or graduating with the wrong major and not finding a job. Or worse still, not being happy in what they end up doing.

To all those 90 percent out there who fear making the wrong choice of major, here's a tool that can be of high value to you before you make a commitment: College Rankings Based on Debt and Earnings by Major -- see which majors result in what earnings after accumulating a certain level of debt at specific colleges. It's a tremendously valuable resource.

So, what's the conclusion?

As we processed these survey results, we realized that the one thing that can help addressing most of these fears is more communication. Between prospective students and current students. Between students and the teaching community. Between students and their peers. The more they can communicate, the more they can seek solace on their individual fears.

I'll append Narayanyan's conclusion with this: Spending time on College Confidential can go a long way in taking the edge of your greatest concerns about college. Have no fear; CC is here!

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