College is a Wilderness. Don’t Get Lost

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Half of freshmen drop out. Survival expert and college professor Scott C. Hammond, PhD lists five things incoming freshmen can do to survive and thrive in their first year.

Half of freshmen class of 2014 will not be at the university in 2015. But even those who stay will experience the separation, isolation, and deviation of a lost person. As a college professor and wilderness survival expert, Professor Scott C. Hammond says these guidelines will help you understand the new wilderness you are about to enter:

Take a class on how to take a class

College success classes taken in the first semester teach you how to navigate college, about your own learning style, and how a university works. Freshmen orientations provide a similar grounding. Both radically reduce first semester drop out.

Know your advisor

The college advisor is by far the most important person to know on the college campus. They will help you select the classes, a course of study, and even where to get a parking pass. Research shows if a freshmen has not met with an advisor in the first 90 days, they are much more likely to drop out.

Have a plan if you fail

Most college students fail at least one class. There is anecdotal evidence that the current president of the United States failed a class, and sure evidence that his predecessor did. Failing is survivable, but failing to deal with failure is not. Get help from an advisor, tutor or professor. Create a plan. Move forward.

You are who you hanging out with

Peers provide the social support in an emotionally turbulent time, or pressure freshmen into “adult” issues, like sex and alcohol, before they are ready.
Hollywood “coming of age” movies would suggest that college social activities always culminate with sexual activities. But recent studies suggest the majority of college students who are sexually active contain their activity to a spouse or partner, and many leave college without having had sex. Sex and alcohol consumption are not necessary elements in a college experience.

Working (off campus) as little as possible

Studies show that students who work less than 20 hours per week do better in school. While “can’t afford it” is the number one reason when students drop out. Work in a job that is as close to your field as possible, even if it pays less. A part-time job is very likely to lead to a full time job upon graduation.

Make plans for next summer

Students who go to school in the summer are more likely to stay in school and persist to graduation. Classes are smaller. Professors are more available. You can graduate earlier or take fewer classes during the regular school year. Internships and volunteer service activities can also serve to solidify graduation commitments.

Scott C. Hammond, PhD, is a Clinical Professor of Management in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and author of Lessons of the Lost: Finding Hope and Resilience in Work, Life, and the Wilderness. He is a frequent contributor to publications and websites, and a guest on media programs. He often speaks often to student groups on college success.

For more information on college freshman success go to

Contact Scott C. Hammond at

Cell: 801-368-4027

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