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Why Do Some Individuals Fail College Despite Superior IQ and High School GPA?

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Main atrium of the Alabama Natural History Museum at the University of Alabama.

Main atrium of the Alabama Natural History Museum at the University of Alabama.

The Only Way Out

My favorite tale of failing college is about a man I knew that did not want to refuse his parents' directive to attend Law School. His direct refusal would be hurtful and a loss of face - a bigger loss of face than trying and failing.

This man did not want to become a lawyer, so he devised a plan that would be his escape. He entered law school and purposely failed during the first year. He then entered the military and was very successful there. In fact, he became a valued member of the squad of bodyguards available to his nation's president. No harm came to the president and his family while this individual served.

This story illustrates one reason that intelligent, academically successful people fail in college: They do not want to attend college or are in a degree program that does not suit their talents and needs.

How many people do we as a nation in America force into college, when they would rather be elsewhere? By force, I mean pressure applied by high school teachers and counselors , by parents and tradition , by media advertisement , and by government statistics that show increased earning for college grads.

Even some of the free tuition programs brought forth under Stimulus Funding 2008 - 2010 (University of Toledo, Ohio is one) caused some people to enter college and fail - it was just something to do or to try at the time, but not a thought-out plan.

This occurred under the Clinton Administration as well. with community colleges in Central Ohio offering one free year of tuition to any local resident. Some people succeeded, others did not, and for many it was simply a lark.

Sensible Top 10 Reasons for Postsecondary Academic Failure

The University of Alabama, The Ohio State University, and several other postsecondary schools recognize a Top 10 List of reasons college students often fail. I saw the same reasons operate among GED students and Work Readiness clients in adult programs.

Top 10 List for Failures

  1. Lack of adequate high school preparation. A number of American students need to attend remedial mathematics and English classes during their Freshman Year Many also have not learned to study effectively. In addition, despite efforts to close the Digital Divide between income levels in the USA, a portion of new college students possess inadequate skills and experience with digital technology.
  2. Misunderstanding the amount of work required in college classes. For example, in my foreign language classes in high school, I compared text books and curricula with those of the local university and found that 1 full year of the high school language class was covered in only1 quarter of college. Thus, 3 major college classes in a single quarter may equal three years of high school squeezed into 10 weeks. A Semester System allows a little more time.
  3. Too many other activities.In K-12, students often sign up for several after school activities that meet once or twice a week. If they do poorly at one of them, they simply forget about it and go on to the next one the next day. Sometimes they don't show up for weeks and the activity leader allows them back into an extracurricular sport anyway - and they do poorly and demoralize their teammates and themselves. Many schools and after school activities provide all students with a certificate of excellence, no matter how well or poorly they perform. This is a habit of lack of commitment and false reward. College requires a firm commitment at the top of the students' priority list. Major sports like college football and basketball often provide additional tutoring and guidance to the players.
  4. In adequate language skills. Some Freshman begin college without the ability to spell, write complete sentences, understand grammar, express themselves orally as well as in written form, and/or read college level materials. Critical thinking in language and in life is a major skill lacking in the beginning of studies for many college students as well as GED students, some job candidates, and many in the adult population of America. Voters especially must be able to analyze the news and political campaigns critically in order to choose the best candidates. They must recognize "spin" when they hear it or read it.
  5. Lack of responsibility. Some students come from a background in which their parents kept them on time and on task and/or provided a lot of benefits or "things" without the youth earning them. The youth did not develop a work ethic or sense of personal responsibility. Without that type of environment, some Freshmen sometimes dont accomplish very much. Other make it to Junior Year and fall apart and out of college.
  6. Lack of standards.Some college and GED students beginning college have not yet set a personal standard of quality in academics. They may turn in "just anything" and expect assignments to succeed. A group of GED students took a reading test for me and placed at 3rd grade level, because they just filled up answers on a punch card without reading questions. When I told them they had to go to a beginning readers' class downtown for at least 6 months, they all decided to take the test again and answer seriously. Some Freshmen type their first English paper with the abreviations used in digital texting and wonder why it comes back with an F grade. Standards need to be defined and students need to understand standards.
  • 7. Lack of goals. Its more difficult to do the hard work needed to succeed in college if one has no idea why one is doing it. Personal goals for 1 year and 3 years into the future help a student to make sense of his or her effort in college. Students also can benefit from deciding what type of work they will be doing - hopefully their dream job.
  • 8. Wrong major.Some students choose a major degree program without much thought or without any reason. Even those that analyze their needs and talents may go through at least 2 majors before they find the appropriate path tp follow in school. College costs a lot of money and takes a lot of work, so choosing and planning a major course of study is vital. This comes home more quickly more often to students that are paying their own way through college and to US military veterans that have fought for the privilege of attendance.
  • 9. Wrong college or university. Students are individuals that do not all succeed at the same school. Campus and student population size make a difference. For some students, a residential college (sometimes based on an academic major) in which students and faculty live in a community on campus are best - some of these prohibit smoking and alcohol, and that may suit some students best. An inappropriate environment of any kind can hinder academic performance and personal growth.
  • 10. Psychological adjustments and conditions. I avoid labels in psychology; however, the usual college years of late teens to early 20s is a time of further development for each college student. Problems can occur that are unexpected or may become a heavy burden: classroom situations, romantic breakups, all sorts of things. Students can become tired and anxious in college and sometimes even a little depressed. Colleges and universities have counseling offices that can be of great benefit to students making these types of adjustments. I saw a counselor myself during a time in which I was stalked by another student and the first session was a tremendous relief. It should be noted, though, that schizophrenia often manifests for the first time during these ages - another reason that the college counseling office can be a benefit.

Please list other reasons you know for college failure below in the Comments Section, along with your experiences and ideas. Thanks!

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 19, 2018:

I wish you every bit of success you can have in your education and life. Sometimes we have to start again, sometimes more than once, but it can be done. Be encouraged and I hope things improve very soon.

The Silent Surprise from Massachusetts on July 19, 2018:

I can relate to some of the reasons. Being in the wrong major and not having proper time management skills is what got me to have issues in college. I'm now trying to get myself back on my feet.

Robert Evans on November 25, 2012:

Scroll to Continue

Insufficient or no counseling in high school.

I was on a dorm floor in which no one was in my major. When I'd socialize about school it would be about stuff involving their majors.

Wrong school - The major department at my first school specialized in a sub-discipline I wasn't interested in (this goes back to insufficient counseling in high school).

For more general critiques, see:

1) Brian Martin. John and Graeme, undergraduate apprentice researchers.

2) "Disciplined Minds" by Jeff Schmidt.

3) Anything have to do with the "Hidden Curriculum"

4) "Exceptionally Gifted Children" by Miraca Gross

5) "The Ph.D. Octopus" by William James

6) "Leaving the Ivory Tower" by Barbara Lovitts

7) The Ph.D. Trap Revisited" by Wilfred Cude

The last three cover graduate school, but are also partly applicable to undergraduate school.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 30, 2012:

A lot of high school graduates automatically go to college with out thinking about it before hand, I think.

Swinter12 from Earth on August 30, 2012:

This is one great article!

Society needs to let students make their own choices. This includes whether or not they want to go to college and what they want to major in.

Voted up.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 12, 2012:

I worked a couple of years before going to college and found it a smooth transition back to school. I was able to complete studies with more focus.

Roland L Daye from United States on May 12, 2012:

You are so right! Family, friends, role models, like teachers and counselors, and society as a whole push students who are not ready for college, or who would find more success doing something else, onto the college path. Sometimes, like you suggest, the student might be a good candidate for higher education, but they are forced into the wrong school or the wrong course of study. For me, I think it was a combination of factors that made it not work out -- wrong school, wrong major, and financial circumstances that got in the way. Yes, there were people pushing me in certain directions, but in the end, my path was my choice and any consequences were/are my own fault.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 24, 2012:

What a story! Glad you made it through and into a college today.

H C Palting from East Coast on February 24, 2012:

I agree. I'm doing well in college now but I believe that offering a workaround "solution" to teens was not the best thing for the school to do. As for the less expensive answer, my school didn't have it and it was closed down after my junior year. Gee, I wonder why :)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 24, 2012:

That all sounds very painful! Thanks for sharing your experiences. There should be an easier and less expensive answer, shoudn't there?

H C Palting from East Coast on February 24, 2012:

Great hub, I can attest to a lack of preparation in high school. In fact my high school gave hundreds of us an out if we wanted to bypass the math (Algebra and up) portion of the curriculum. I found Algebra illogical and abstract. I failed it twice while getting A's and B's in all my other classes, no lie. There was no help for me from either of my parents at home and no help in school or afterwards either. As a working adult in college I had to spend a lot of money to finally understand what had escaped me during 2 prior attempts in high school.

Captbilly on January 05, 2012:

Because a college degree is now conwidered a necessity for so many careers, even though no specific major is required, many people are going to college who are not really smart enough to do well. If one goes back 50 years or more, college was not considered to be generally within the reach of anyone of average intelligence. But at many high schools today (and even at some public schools of the 1950s) over 90% of the students go on to college. If we assume that most public schools have an average intelligence distribution then it shouldn't really be possible that 90% of the students are truly capable of the type of work required in college.

In many countries the students are selected ,at about 6-8th grade, for college or technical training paths. Though this "unequal" treatment may offend our sense of fairness it seems no more reasonable to think that everyone is smart enough to go to college than say, everyone is athletic enough to do Olympic level sports.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 22, 2011:

All these comments are interesting and well received.

@alekhouse - I think this is correct! Competition among parents is active many places, all the way down to PeeWee Football, in which parents get into fist fights in my area.

@Donna - So true! Tnaks for commenting. SOme vouices want us to go the other way though, and put all the kids in tech schools or apprenticeshps instead.

@LailaK - Go for help to your instructors office hours reerved for students. GO everyday if you need to!

@JK and dallas...Thanks very much for posting!

However...Common sense IS definitely learned by many I have taught myself in their adult years. I find many people simply do not want to be aware and to succeed in my classes, they must be aware and use critical thinking.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on September 22, 2011:

"How many people do we as a nation in America force into college, when they would rather be elsewhere?"

I think there are a lot. Many parents want their kids to go and get a degree cause it cause it makes them look good, from a lot of different perspectives

Donna Fairley Huebsch from Clearwater, Florida on September 21, 2011:

"They do not want to attend college or are in a degree program that does not suit their talents and needs." This statement is so true! I am often annoyed when people assume that every child should attend me this ignores a person's individuality. Some people should attend college and some shouldn't - it depends on what they want to do in life.

LailaK from Atlanta, Georgia on September 20, 2011:

I agree tremendously with this hub. I don't know if this is any similar, I am taking a college calculus course while I am in high school, and unfortunately, my grade average is getting worse. I have been doing my work, but my teacher uses near-impossible questions on tests and quizzes. I hope that college is different! This hub raises my hopes; thank you!

Jyoti Kothari from Jaipur on September 20, 2011:


You have clearly identified the problems. Another great hub! Rated up!

Jyoti Kothari

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on September 19, 2011:

Attending college can be like the anology of solving a problem: If one does not have the "tools," (acquired critical thinking skills and a certain body of knowledge) one is hampered in the process of "solving" the problem.

College is a process. It is not for everyone. Most job skills do not require college "level" skills in terms of human relations and simply solving problems.

College and higher education in general provide "tools," but we get to decide how, or if we need to apply these tools...

Common sense is a gift that cannot be learned. I have more degrees than most, yet I am not "smarter." The disicipline required to obtain a formal education does not always reflect "real life" challenges.

There are some who do not need a "higher education."

This does not reflect on their intellect, or lack of discipline...

We each have unique needs and aspirations. The "trick" is to match our needs with our aspirations and select activities that support our needs...

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 19, 2011:

Cardisa, congratulations for taking your time and making your decisions. I am soprry for the pain of your life, but am happy to know you with your full background.

Earth Angel! - You are so astute to include this about Aspergers, which I had not thought of when I wrote this. It makes much sense. Thanks!

Earth Angel on September 19, 2011:

Asperger Spectrum is also a reason so many fail in their first year of college! Dearest Patty, This is a GREAT Hub! I mention Asperger because it is so prevalent in California and especially Silicon Valley! Many students, bordering on genius are bored to death with the academics while lacking the social skills that would "grease the wheels!" If I remember correctly, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Mark Wahlbert (FaceBook) all dropped out of college! Thanks again for this GREAT Hub! Blessings Always, Earth Angel!

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on September 19, 2011:

My Mom will never quite forgive me for refusing to go to college straight out of high school. I was seventeen and preparing to graduate and was anxious to get a break. I wasn't doing so well psychologically, being raped at age 14 and hadn't quite figured out what I did to deserve it. Everything was "black" for me. I knew if I took a break, at least a couple of years, I would have sorted out myself and be ready for college. It took me another decade to find the courage to attend college or even try.

All I'm saying is coercion and force does the person no good because it only set them up to fail. If I had listened to my mom about going to college directly after High school I would have failed.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 18, 2011:

Good advice, ktrapp and RachelLefker.

All I did was go to school and work a lot, since I was paying for education and everything else on my own; so my experience is skewed. I did not have an opening for any fun activity, but I think it would have interfered with studies.

Naomi Starlight from Illinois on September 18, 2011:

I left my first college and first major. I was in the wrong major, in a college that wasn't providing me with a good enough living environment, that was too expensive, and I was taking on too many e.c.'s and it hurt my G.P.A. because I spent a lot of my free time doing work for the Residence Hall Counsel and Student Activities Board and color guard while neglecting actual school work. E.C.'s are harder in college and demand more of your time. I'd recommend only joining 1 or 2 clubs or sports and make sure it's stuff you're sure you really want to do that you don't mind being committed to.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on September 18, 2011:

My son completed his first year of college at a community college and is now in his first semester at a 4-year college. Sometimes a year or two at community college is beneficial to many students who may have not performed their best in high school. I think I read not long ago, that when community college students transfer they then outperform the students who attended the 4-year institution beginning their freshman year. I think community college removes a lot of distractions - specifically dorm life. I think dorm life and excessive partying are also reasons for failure.

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