College is an exciting time for young people, but it can also be quite challenging and overwhelming. Undergrad is a time for students to pursue their academic goals while pursuing interests with like-minded people through on-campus groups and activities. However, as college kids get involved in extracurriculars and classes begin to pick up the pace, their stress levels often begin to skyrocket. According to one study, only 54.8% of college students graduate within 6 years. A variety of roadblocks and challenges can stand in the way of academic success. We’ve laid out the 4 biggest struggles that today’s college students face, along with ideas of how to overcome them.

  1. Academic Difficulties

Not everyone comes to college equally prepared. Attending classes at a university is considerably more challenging than classes in high school. For starters, you need to be far more self-reliant. Professors typically don’t nag you about studying and completing assignments on time. As a result, students who lack self-discipline tend to quickly fall behind. This adjustment can be quite trying for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds with educations that did not prepare them for the rigors of higher education. Here’s how you can address these issues.

Offer Resources to Help Students Succeed     

Some colleges are experimenting with a variety of resources to help students succeed. For example, Georgia State University has implemented an innovative program designed to help incoming students transition to the rigors of college life. Such programs, while aiding in areas such as study skills, have a primary goal of integrating students that are not adjusting well with the rest of their college community. Colleges usually also offer resources such as tutoring, teaching successful study methods as well as bettering time management skills.

2. Financial Challenges

It’s no secret that the cost of college is becoming more and more expensive by the year. Between 1988 and 2018, the costs of a college education have risen by more than 200%. Students take on a significant amount of debt to pursue degrees, and many have to work part-time or sometimes even full-time while taking classes. Financial pressure can make it quite difficult for students to concentrate on their classes. It’s not easy to study for tests, write term papers and stay involved in extracurriculars while juggling 20 or more hours of work per week.

The ACT Center for Equity in Learning found that working more than 15 hours per week has been proven to be harmful to students’ academic progress.  There are several great options for students facing financial dilemmas:

  • Seek grants and scholarships. Students don’t always take advantage of all the financial aid possibilities that are available. A great place to start is with NSCS as they offer over $1 million in scholarships every year.
  • While loans can create long-term financial pressure, in some cases they are a better alternative to working full time so you can focus on excelling in college classes.
  • Reduce expenses. Students can save money by searching for cheaper housing and transportation alternatives. If students have a kitchen available to them, cooking at home also saves a significant amount of money.
  • Consider attending a less expensive school. Some students, although set on attending a prestigious college or university, can get better value from a more economical alternative. You can look into local programs that have partnered with state schools as well — these are known as “Guaranteed Transfer Programs”. For example, if you maintain a certain GPA at your local community college, you can transfer to a state university of your choosing after completing 2 years.

3. Emotional and Mental Health Challenges

Emotional and mental health challenges can make it difficult for people to focus on their studies. According to mental health professionals, many students are facing increasing rates of psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety and suicide. According to Active Minds, suicide is second leading cause of death amongst college students.  These issues are not always separate from the other challenges that college students face. Financial and academic problems can cause or exacerbate mental health issues.

Mental Health Counseling

All colleges and universities offer services such as counseling. Too often, students who need help don’t ask for it. It’s essential to remove any stigmas attached to mental health programs and needing to seek help. Both students and faculty should be encouraged to look for symptoms so those who need help don’t get overlooked. In some cases, mental health problems go beyond the scope of what on-campus resources can handle. That’s why it’s also crucial for schools to connect with external organizations that can provide help. Mental health resources helpful for college students include the American Psychological Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 

4. Choosing the Wrong Major

Many students who start college aren’t sure what they want to commit their future career to. They may pick a major based on what their friends or parents recommend; others prefer a major they think will lead to a high-paying job. If the student has no interest or aptitude in a discipline, he or she will likely lose motivation in pursuing their chosen major. Choosing the right major has a significant impact on a student’s overall success and well-being.

Consider Career, Interests, and Aptitude

When selecting a major, students should consider not only their career goals, but also their talents and interests. Many students focus too much on current statistics regarding industries with high employment rates and high salaries. While this is important, it shouldn’t be the only criterion. For example, you may be fascinated with robots; if you had trouble passing math and science classes in high school, robotics might not be the best option for you.

It’s also worth noting that people often have a simplistic and distorted view of what subjects and majors are “practical.” There are many possible career paths. For example, there is currently a lot of hype around STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and math) which is great for those who have an aptitude and interest in these subjects; however, it does not mean they are right for everybody. Even seemingly less practical majors can lead to lucrative careers. For example, Philosophy majors can attend law school and Classics majors can become college professors. In fields such as technology, employers increasingly understand the value of soft skills such as communication. For this reason, many tech employers hire candidates with liberal arts degrees.

Don’t Choose a Major Too Soon

Sometimes the problem is that students feel compelled to choose a major before they’re ready. While some people enter college set on a specific major, those who are less certain shouldn’t feel pressured to declare a major right away. We encourage students to take courses in a variety of fields, which can help them discover new interests while acquiring a more well-rounded education.

These are some of the common obstacles to college success. If schools want to reduce the number of students who do not graduate, they need to be more creative and proactive in addressing these issues. Many students who struggle have the potential to excel if provided with the right resources and encouragement.

NSCS offers resources and partnerships with organizations such as Active Minds to ensure that our students are successful. If you find that you are struggling with any of these challenges or other please reach out to your NSCS chapters for information on our resources.

The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) is an honors organization, boasting 320 plus chapter nationwide, that recognizes high-achieving first-and second-year students.  With its three pillars of scholarship, leadership, and service, NSCS is proud to provide career and graduate school connections, leadership and service experiences, practical and skills-based content, access to discounts and savings, and over a million dollars in scholarships, chapter funds and awards annually.

To learn more about joining the NSCS honors society, visit us at

NSCS has 330 plus chapters nation-wide, is a 501c3 registered nonprofit, certified member of the ACHS, and is FERPA certified by AACRAO.