Why students who do well in high school bomb in college

12:25 pm Hong Kong Education, Latest News

by Gary Hadler  Director, ITS Education Asia


This was a headline for a recent article in the Washington post Why students who do well in high school bomb in college. Below is a short extract from the whole article

“The first year of college is a tough transition, and for many students, a disillusioning one.
A study conducted last fall at the University of Toronto found that incoming students arrived with unreasonably optimistic expectations. On average, students predicted they would earn grade-point averages of 3.6. Those dreams were swiftly punctured. By the end of the year, the average freshman had only a 2.3.

What separated the high-achievers from the low-achievers? As any college admissions counselor will tell you, high school grades have always been the single best predictor of college success. But that does not mean that high school grades are good predictors. Research shows that differences in students’ high school GPAs explain only about 20 percent of the differences between students’ college GPAs.

What accounts for the remainder is still something of a debate and a mystery. Standardized test scores factor in, as does socioeconomic status. And increasingly, education experts think that character traits such as grit, perseverance and conscientiousness play a role.”

The article breaks students into “Thrivers” AND “Divers” and stresses a psychological idea of “conscientiousness” (Conscientiousnes is the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant. Conscientiousness implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people are efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly.).

It is very interesting that the research only attributes 20% of the reason for doing well at higher education to High School grades. I was somewhat surprised at this.

Even though this article is about University of Toronto the research is also applicable to other universities. However, it probably does not include many students from other countries thus the problem of international students is likely to be a bit different. Therefore, I would like to add to this article with my own thoughts in relation to my HK teaching experience and some of the other things I would include that would help explain the reason some students ‘thrive’ and some ‘dive’ when attending tertiary education.

1. Level of tuition support received at high school not being there when at university – Many student’s struggle to replicate A* performances without the help of a tutor. Good tutors can increase a student’s grade average considerably and the lack of tutors may see the student’s grade average fall.
2. Maturity – Many HK students lack maturity as they have been brought up in a very sheltered environment. When they go to university the environment suddenly becomes the open real world. This provides a whole host of distractions that emotionally immature students may struggle to deal with.
3. Inappropriate (non desired) courses – Left to HK parents there would only be two occupations studied. ( Doctor or Lawyer) Strong students are pushed into these occupations regardless of personal preferences in many instances. If a student is directed into a career study area that they do not wish to do, performance can fall off very quickly.
4. Relationships – A new boyfriend or girlfriend can distract even the most hard working and dedicated students…
5. Environment – Moving from HK to another country can be difficult for many students. This can impact on their study.

My interpretation of this article is that the suggestion is being made if “all other factors are even” then Conscientiousness still provides a significant reason between why some people succeed and some fail.

I would welcome other people’s comments and feedback.

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