Tips from an Irvine College Tutor: Dropout Rates: Warning Signs

Students are heading off to college in just a few short weeks and will face the excitement and pressure of a new learning environment. Student dropout rates have always been an issue, however, if students and parents recognize the signs of potential dropout early on they may be able to prevent the situation from ever occurring. With all the adjustments and stress involved with being a college freshman, it’s difficult to determine which symptoms are normal parts of the college transition process and which ones could result in more severe consequences.


Although each student is an individual with a different path to learning, there are a few situations that are indicative of either a normal college transition or a more serious situation (READ: “Tips From an Irvine College Consultant: What to do With the Your Summer if You Didn’t Land a Job”).

1. Grades

Many college freshmen will receive a C grade during their first year. Although this may seem like a panic-inducing situation for a student to who had a 4.5 GPA in high school, one C grade is not a disaster. Freshmen are adjusting to new study habits and learning how to manage their time without the consistent structure and second chances provided in the high school environment. As a result, many students receive a lower grade in one or two classes during this adjustment. On the other hand, if a student is put on academic probation – meaning they have a GPA below 2.0 – it’s a red flag. If a student is receiving D’s or F’s in the majority of their classes, they are very likely not able to handle the workload or have not learned study skills necessary at the college level. Students who are on academic probation for a second consecutive semester are asked to leave their studies. Additionally, students who receive multiple failing grades are more tempted to give up and drop out.

One key issue is how a student reacts to a poor grade. If they barely slide by with a passing C, it’s an indication that some adjustments need to be made. However, if the student takes this as a warning sign and has a positive attitude towards improving study habits and time allotted for learning, it may actually be a good sign because the student is focusing on improvement. However, if the student is not concerned about poor grades, they may be focused on things other than academic life.

2. Academic advising

Students who make good use of academic advising appointments are more likely to meet graduation requirements than those who don’t. Graduation requirements and the general education curriculum can be difficult to navigate, especially at a larger university. Students who take classes that they neither need nor want become understandably frustrated and are less likely to maintain interest in their educational environment. Also, students who need to take more classes than necessary may be tempted to drop out if they find out their bachelor’s degree is going to take five or six years to complete. Alternatively, students who see an academic advisor on a regular basis have a better chance of avoiding unnecessary classes and adjusting their schedule so they can graduate on time or close to it. Students who take no interest in academic advising appointments are generally at higher risk of dropout and are encouraged to seek assistance to manage their schedule and academic plan (READ: “5 Things to do before You Go Away to College”).

3. Major field of study

Some students know what they want to study right away while others want to take advantage of general education classes to determine what they like and what they’re good at. However, come junior year it’s time to choose a major field of study. Students who are not able to declare a major and those who are putting off their choice are more likely to be tempted to drop out. Having a clear goal for career and graduation helps keep students on track, however, the opposite also holds true and students who don’t know exactly where their education is taking them are tempted to cease their studies prior to graduation.

Bottom Line

Although not every dropout can be predicted, there are some universal factors that serve as warning signs for potential dropout rates. Students and parents are encouraged to look at the signs and address the issues before they lead to a permanent situation.

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