Focus on Freshmen: Three Steps to College Success


As we prepare for our kids to go back to school, many will not be returning to familiar ground, but moving forward into completely new territory – college.

Amidst the excitement and newness of this transition, there will be challenges and adjustments, especially if this is a young person’s first time away from family. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all facing a college freshman this year is…FREEDOM .

For the first time, a student will have to balance the demands of rigorous academic coursework combined with myriad social opportunities and virtually no supervision.

“It’s a combination of variables that can trip up even the most disciplined and, what we might call, ‘well-behaved’ students,” says Malcolm Gauld, co-author of the parenting book, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have, and president of Hyde Schools, known widely for its unique approach to helping students develop character.

“College can initially be very overwhelming for any student, and many will struggle, particularly those who are accustomed to having parents manage some or all of their lives,” says Gauld. “Fact is, one in four college freshmen drops out.”

Malcolm on WCSH Channel 6 discussing tips for college success.

Gauld believes that there are three types of students generally heading for college:

  1. Those who will take to college like ducks to water;
  2. Those who will engage in an inspired struggle to keep their heads above water;
  3. Those who will sink like a stone from the outset.

“Success or lack of success in college may not have anything to do with academic ability,” says Gauld. “But it may have everything to do with a student’s character – how he or she learns to manage time, and employ a little self-discipline.”

For those students and any others interested in beating the odds, Gauld offers a set of well-tested recommendations to students who may need help through the transition. He acknowledges that while the advice is not necessarily a path to the dean’s list, students who test and follow through with his three tips will maintain “student in good standing” status throughout their college careers.

Gauld explains his approach to college success in three simple steps:


The first rule also happens to be the most important. Sounds simple, but it’s one of the snares of those who don’t complete their college degree. A student’s newfound freedom of time and freedom of choice (which, in the cafeteria, also invokes a common weight gain in the first year) needs to be met with a sense of responsibility.

“Attending class not only reinforces material consumed on the student’s own time, but it fosters a relationship between the student and professor, which makes students less likely to flunk or drop the class. Not attending regularly, or thinking ‘I can catch up later,’ can become a very slippery slope,” Gauld explains.

RULE #2: 3 x 5 Study Method .

Study three hours/day for five days/week. Set aside two days to spend as you please. Do not put off regular studying. Do not ‘cram,’ or believe you will catch up on weeks of lessons the night before an exam. It will not work and will leave you exhausted.

“Fifteen hours a week of study still leaves you plenty of time for social activities and relaxation,” says Gauld. “In fact, it will leave you more than 100 hours. But you’ve got to train your mind and make studying a priority.”

RULE #3: You Gotta Serve Somebody .

Go out for a team; try out for a part in a play; write for the college newspaper; get involved in the campus recycling program. Build a connection with your school that is more than just academic. It will energize you and help you build diverse relationships.

Three simple rules – and yet they make the difference.

“I have never seen a kids fail who applied these steps,” says Gauld. “And the kids generally respond well to this advice. I think that it’s in part due to the fact that I’m offering action steps, not giving them a list of don’ts. And if students take care of the DO’s, they won’t have all that much time, or need, for the don’ts.”