Freedom & Responsibility: Why university students fail in their first year

Updated: Nov 3

For the past few weeks, I have been thinking about students, freedom, and responsibilities.

I began tutoring some students over the summer vacation and made some general observations about how we manage freedom and responsibilities.


The thought of going to university to live on your own, away from home for most students is so exciting. Yet, a lot of us forget quickly that with such freedom comes some responsibilities.

You know back in high school, our parents controlled to a large extent what time to go to bed and when to be up for school. If you got to school late your teachers would punish you in one way or the other. At best, they may not allow you to go to class, and at worst call your parents.

When I started university back in 2020, one of our lecturers mentioned that about 60% of students fail in their first year. That’s quite alarming! Another lecturer also remarked that it would take us about 5 to 7 years to complete the 3-year program. I wondered why this was such a big problem and how the lecturers couldn’t do something about it. I was shocked that these lecturers took such pride in students’ failure. Does it not also reflect on them as lecturers?!

Yes, we could say they have a great responsibility to make sure students succeed but to what extent can they do this? After all, they can’t force students to study if they don’t want to, can they? This is where students play an important role in their success.

Now, at the beginning of July 2022, I sent a message to my class group offering to help anyone who did not pass their exams. I got about 10 responses from students who needed my help. This is what happened after the first contact:

  • Some of them were ready to start immediately.

  • Some contacted me and that was the last I heard of them.

  • Some waited till the very last minute to retake.

  • Some showed up late to our meetings.

  • Some did not put in much effort.

This got me thinking; the same attitude that got some of these students to fail was the same attitude they had towards the retake. This reminds me of the famous quote by Albert Einstein:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I mean, you don’t expect to get a higher score with the same attitude as the previous one, do you? Retakes are an opportunity to do better. It calls for a rethink about what you did wrong, what you can change, and what to do better.

This is where responsibility comes in. With every freedom, comes responsibilities.


At the university level, you are responsible for a large part of your life. Nobody will nudge you to attend class or not, you decide to do assignments or not and you even decide to take an exam or not. You should know that all these decisions come with consequences that you would face by yourself.

As a student it is your responsibility to succeed at school or not; it’s your choice.

In one of our courses, this particular student attended class just twice and even didn’t stay for the full session.

To get this out of the way, as students we all miss one or two classes here and there and I’m not trying to be judgemental. These are some real issues affecting students and their academic performance.

Now back to what I was saying, this student didn’t study either. You know some students don’t or can’t attend classes for one reason or the other, but they do their best to study.

I remember on exam day, she kept asking me about the areas the teacher asked us to study. She even tried to disenroll from the course on the weekend of the exam which was not possible.

So how do you enjoy freedom and still take responsibility for your life as a student?

  • Plan and schedule your courses around your lifestyle.

  • Divide your studies into smaller chunks. "A little bit and often."

  • Attend all lectures and classes if you can.

  • Submit assignments on time.

  • Ask for help if you need it.

Don't postpone your responsibilities.

Freedom is sweetest when you have taken care of your responsibilities.

If you would like to take charge of your education and own it, book a session with me.

Let me hear from you. What are your thoughts about this topic?

Learn more about owning your education on my website.