FILE: New programs aim to improve UT retention

Freshmen are told during orientation not to walk on the Presidential Seal during their years at UT, as it is told it brings bad luck. 

The cautionary tale of the Seal is simple: Never step foot on it, lest you desire to graduate late, or at all! If you say this correctly, this is followed by a crack of thunder and a rendition of Rocky Top in G-minor.

All joking aside, does it ring true?

I have a confession to make - when I was a freshman, I stepped on the seal multiple times, just to prove a point. I was warned by everybody who knew me not to do it, but boy did I do it every time I walked past it on Ped Walkway. Some days it was full sole-to-seal contact. Other days it was a cheeky toe-touch.

Nothing much happened, really. I had a strong start to my college career, and everything was going really great for a while. Then things slowly began to go downhill. I hadn't touched the almighty seal since 2016, but maybe the karma of touching the seal came back to bite me.

I struggled tremendously for at least a few semesters, despite having done everything in my power to stay afloat. So now, I have to take an extra one.

While this is strictly anecdotal evidence, and not really indicative of anything substantial, I think it points to the fact that a lot of different factors have to do with when you hypothetically graduate. General wellness, planning and keeping proper studying habits all factor into how smoothly things go in your life, and ultimately in your academic career.

Even so, sometimes life just does not go your way.

But let's take a step back - is it really that important to graduate in four years? For financial reasons, yes, since scholarships tend to run out after eight semesters. However, most students have a hard time knowing just exactly what they want to do when they enter college straight from high school. Transferring schools or switching majors can alter your academic plan, and some credits may not transfer over.

That being said, students don't always take full advantage of their academic advisors. Even if you think you know best, a quick meeting with a faculty or academic advisor can solidify or adjust your academic plan to make sure you graduate as quickly as possible.

However, there are other factors to take into account as well, such as internships and on-campus involvement. School comes first, but diversification of experiences can also help you stand out.

Balancing it all can get difficult.

Which leads into mental health — something incredibly vital to take into account as well. College is difficult, not just in an academic sense, but it takes a toll being on your own and experiencing many different things or the first time. Adjustment difficulties are common, and so is depression and anxiety among college students. Sometimes, being in college can feel overwhelming - meeting your own expectations and those of parents or family can place additional pressure on a student as well. Withdrawal for those reasons is not uncommon, either.

So, regardless if you step on the seal or not, you are more likely than not to need an extra semester. However, rest assured that things tend to work out for the better in the end, as long as you are not afraid to seek help, and to set yourself up for success. Who knows - perhaps you'll find that college isn't even the right path for you. But that's okay - you will likely find your calling elsewhere.

All in all, go Vols, whether you step on the seal or not. 

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