Now that your student has been accepted to BYU you might wonder how you can help them prepare for their first year. You’ve been preparing them for a long time, but there are specific things you can do to accelerate that preparation. We have learned a lot about the factors that help students thrive in the first year and would like to share some of what we have learned. Some of these ideas might surprise you, but they are well grounded in experience and research with first-year students.
1. Working hard is just as important as being smart or talented
Tests like the SAT and ACT predict how intellectually prepared students are for college coursework. However, students with good test scores often struggle in college. Many who succeeded in high school without having to work hard get lower grades in college than students with average test scores but a good work ethic. Many bright students have learned how to do well on tests, but have not yet learned how to learn. Students who are smart and have a good work ethic have the most success academically. That work ethic should include understanding that mistakes and failures are part of the learning process, and being willing to learn from setbacks.
First-year students at BYU learn quickly that most of their peers are as bright and talented as they are. Most graduated towards the top of their high school class and were active in sports, music, leadership and other endeavors. When their talent is no longer unique some students lose an important aspect of their identity. A work ethic which provides balance to their talent, and helps them learn from disappointment, can help insulate them from that shock.
2. Students need to understand college-level academic expectations
Most BYU first-year students expect to work harder in college than they did in high school, but few understand how much harder they need to work. Many only studied an hour or so per day their last year of high school. They are smart and may have been able to get by without serious effort.
However, to succeed academically at BYU, students need to study at least two hours outside of class for every hour they spend in class. Most coursework will be more rigorous and demanding than what they faced in high school, and there is more of it. An average first year course load is 14 hours—meaning students are in class 14 hours per week. That means they should study at least 28 hours a week outside of class, which is much more than they are used to. That’s a big adjustment, especially for young people away from home for the first time. Knowing this could help them transition faster, and help you coach them along the way.
3. “Coasting” as seniors can be bad for academic health
Many students who have worked hard and succeeded academically in high school turn off the engines when they get accepted for university studies. “Senioritis” sets in and they want a break.
That desire is understandable, but firing up the engines again is harder than students think. Letting go of study habits can handicap students during their first year of college, especially their critical first semester. Students who work steadily over their last semester of high school do better in their first-year at BYU. They don’t have to accelerate as much to adjust to higher academic demands—and it is easier to do so when they need to. They earn higher grades, are more satisfied academically and are ready for the next challenge.
BYU is more competitive than ever, so getting accepted to study here says that your student has the potential to succeed. Help them get off to a good start by encouraging a strong work ethic now that will help them make the most of their opportunity.
Steve Wygant is an Associate Director in the BYU office of Institutional Assessment and Analysis, where, among other responsibilities, he oversees the annual Pre-arrival and End-of-year surveys for first-year students.