It can be hard to stay on track in college, but it helps if you have a plan going in. The most effective plan is to model your education before you’re in college, much like a company models a rapid prototype before sending a product to market. Doing this sort of modeling will help you focus your energies and avoid costly classes later in your college career that will have no bearing on your eventual major. Here are the most precarious pitfalls to keep you eye out for and PLAN FOR IN ADVANCE. A good defense is the best offense against dropout rates and soaring post-grad debt.

Social Distraction

Just like any other stage in life, college thrusts young people into a new environment where they will make all sorts of new social interactions. For some the prospect of freedom is overwhelming and they are consumed by it. Opportunities to socialize wait at every turn and many students use college as a chance to socialize rather than study. This happens to nearly everyone on a university campus, but the students who do not change their behavior will likely descend into a complex feedback loop of detrimental activity and drop out.

This is mainly a personality trait and only a strong will and desire to succeed can break this chain, so try not to get pulled in.

Unexpected Difficulty

In 1993, I saw Jurassic Park and decided I wanted to be a paleontologist. It’s an easy decision to make when you’re a kid, but when you actually enroll in archaeology classes and have to start memorizing the evolution theory illustrated in the Paleolithic period it’s easy to wonder if maybe you should update your interests. Many students don’t anticipate the difficulty of the classes they have to take, and in between socializing and navigating the tumultuous life of a young college student those classes begin to mean less and less.

A good way to sidestep this pitfall is to understand your curriculum before you go into it. Email potential professors, attain syllabi and see if you can get a head start on course work. It’ll give you more breathing room during the semester and set you on the golden path to success.

Financial Tumult

Grants, scholarships and other financial aid are emphasized early on in the college careers, but as the years roll by, there is less pressure from the top to apply for financial aid. As a result, when the free money runs out, many students are forced to find loans, find work (sometimes dropping to a part-time student), or even quit college completely. In fact, financial woes are tied directly to college dropout rates amid rising tuition rates and fewer students being able to find work to supplement their income. It’s not an easy task to work multiple jobs while attending school full-time.

College, if you’re doing it right, is difficult. It’s very difficult. It is a system literally designed to break you down completely and build you back up into a functioning person with a little bit more insight than you had when you came in. There were many times in my own college career when college seemed like a hopeless exercise in futility. It never is. Strive towards something and you will achieve it. Just make sure you have a plan going in, or you’re more likely to fall to the trials of young student life.

Joseph Baker’s business experience in management spans more than 15 years. A leader of development and management teams, he also implemented budget reductions professionally and as an independent contractor. Joseph led strategic planning and systems of implementation for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses. His education background ranges from teaching to school administration.