College Freshmen: The Warning Signs

3 12 2012

When I met Ryan McRae, he was serving as the Resident Director for CSUMB in Monterey, CA. We quickly became friends due to our shared interest in comics, gaming, and assorted geek stuff. He moved on to become Resident Director at CSUSM, and served there until taking a civilian position as a trainer working with the US military in Afghanistan. You can read all about his adventures through his blog,

Ryan recently wrote a book for parents who are preparing to send their kids off to college. This is a subject that Ryan knows quite a bit about. He’s seen it all.

When he offered to write a guest blog for me, I immediately knew one of the things I wanted him to address. I used to tutor college students in developmental writing, and my wife is a college instructor who works with lots of incoming freshmen. And they think they know it all. When their grades start to slip, they don’t understand. “I got A’s in English all through high school,” they complain. Somehow, they made it to graduation thinking they could do no wrong, and find themselves woefully unprepared when they reach the next level.

Ryan took it a step further. He does that.

So, here are Ryan’s warning signs. You’re kid’s made it to college. Are they going to make it in college?

– dEV

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For 8 years I was a Resident Director at a college; not only did I see freshmen every day, teach them, work with them, and counsel them, I also lived with them for 8 years. I know college freshmen and in about 20 minutes, I can tell you with about a 90% predictability if a college freshman will make it to being a sophomore.
Here are the warning signs:
They repeat mistakes: When college students are breaking policy within housing (drinking, smoking, etc.) or academically (plagiarism), they have the opportunity to learn from the behavior. If the behavior continues because they feel they can get away with it, if given another chance, I know they are headed for disaster. I stand there like Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder edition) and saying, “No, stop, don’t.”
They will not take advice: More often I counseled students on what they needed to do to pull up when their relationships, academics, or opportunities were in jeopardy. I will outline about 2-3 critical steps the student needs to do to survive and if they take it to heart, they are on their way up, but many times they will look at me like I fell from the sky ten minutes ago, without any knowledge or expertise about college. (I’ve been either in higher education or worked in the field for 16 years. No joke.)
They run to their parents and their parents rescue them. I’ve caught students smoking pot red-handed. The bong was on the table. Bob Marley blaring. Pizza boxes stacked up.. When the student is getting evicted, the parents inform me that their cherub, who was in Bible study during high school, would never, ever, be involved in such behavior. I must not like their student. I must be mistaken. I must not know what’s going on.
Here are the encouraging characteristics:
The student gets involved at go: The student starts going to organizations and the football games. The student goes to the Resident Adviser programs and study sessions. It helps students become successful the more he or she is involved.
The student is not ashamed of being smart: Our media teaches us that unpopular people are always smart (Ross from Friends, Lisa from the Simpsons). When students flaunt that they are in honors classes or reading literature, they are much more successful.
The student is kind for the sake of being kind: I can pick up a fake students at about 400 ft. The students who are kind and compassionate, and who wants what’s best not only for them, but others as well, succeed.

If you want more tips and tricks, I wrote a book! Two books. The Quick and Easy Parent’s Guide to College and The Quick and Easy Guide to Getting the Resident Advisor Position.




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