For Students

Regarding Falling Behind On-time Graduation Requirements

At most schools in Japan, less than one percent of students repeat a year (remain in the same class for another year) in the general full-time educational curriculum through senior high school.
At university, however, the situation is entirely different. According to the “School Basic Survey” of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, a little less than 80% of students entering four-year undergraduate programs graduate in four years. The remaining roughly 20% include students who drop out after their 4th year without registering and those who withdraw in prior years, so they do not all enter a 5th year. Regardless, compared with high school, a dramatically larger number of university students remain registered beyond the prescribed number of years. Also, including those who remain enrolled for more than four years, roughly 90% of students who enter four-year undergraduate programs in Japan do manage to graduate.
The situation is basically the same at Kyoto University, but the number of students who fall behind the schedule for on-time graduation varies greatly by faculty, at more than 30% of the enrollment in some faculties and less than 20% in others. Approximately 20% of Kyoto University students graduate late, overall.
The fact that so many students fall behind, or withdraw from school, indicates that falling behind or withdrawing from school should not be seen as only a personal failure. What it really means is that the present university system in Japan is designed so it generates given numbers of students who fall behind or withdraw from school.
There are many factors involved with this in multiple ways including the academic counseling and career education system through university entry, university entrance exam format, curriculum approach, study support framework, system for changing division or faculty, university transfer system, academic counseling and career education system at the university, and corporate hiring patterns. With that understanding, we now consider how to deal with falling behind and future choices.

Behavior and Thought Patterns of the Cycle of Falling Behind

There are, of course, some students who intentionally fall behind the schedule for on-time graduation by plan, for some objective or because of circumstances, for example, for study abroad or other self-improvement, or to look after someone or recover from illness. On the other hand, some students unwillingly fall behind because they suffer academic difficulties or lose the desire or purpose to pursue their studies.

When a student falls behind unwillingly, that sometimes results in a vicious cycle whereby falling behind leads to falling further behind. If you do wind up behind the schedule for on-time graduation, it is very important to pay attention so you do not fall into that cycle, or so you can break loose from it if you do. To those ends, please check to see if you may be experiencing any of the following conditions.

(1) Trying to Hide the Fact that You Have Fallen Behind from Family and Friends

Students often hide the fact that they have fallen behind schedule for on-time graduation from their families because they feel it is shameful or disgraceful, or think their parents will get angry. They may also hide this from their friends. Hiding it separates them from other people, and leaves them isolated. In most cases, that becomes a heavy psychological and social burden. While you may not want to share this with everyone, choose someone and let them know your situation. Many students say that once they confided in someone, it took a load off their minds.

(2) Trying to Catch Up All at Once

There is a pattern where some students who fall behind rush to try and make up for the insufficient number of credits all at once, and register for a large number of classes. Students will often register for the maximum number of units allowed. But completing many classes at once requires a correspondingly large amount of study. That demands physical and mental stamina. As a result, some students who take on too many classes at once cannot sufficiently focus on any of them, and wind up suffering devastating results. Registering for and attending around 10 classes per week with 2 periods per day generally results in steady progress.

(3) Giving Yourself No Daily Fun

Some students think, “Since I have fallen behind the schedule to graduate on time, I have no right to have fun each day,” and spend all their time pursuing painful studies. If you continue with such a drab lifestyle, you may forget why you are studying in the first place. After falling behind schedule, some students almost never take time to laugh from the heart, taste a little extravagance, or give themselves a little reward for their hard work. Even something small can be enough. Just try to have some fun each day.

(4) Thinking “I Can’t Live If I Do Not Graduate”

Some students strongly cling to extreme pessimistic beliefs such as “It’s a catastrophe if I do not graduate,” or “I can’t live if I do not graduate.” As discussed below, however, nearly 30% of the people who do graduate university on time and gain immediate employment leave their jobs within three years. Falling a year behind, dropping out, and quitting jobs are normal events which many people experience in life. A society that does not tolerate such events is a society that suppresses the spirit of taking on challenges. It is an unhealthy society. We should all work together to create a society where everyone can always start over. Also, such extreme pessimistic thoughts may cause impatience, and conversely suffocate your desire to study.

(5) Premature Thoughts to “Work Hard from Next Year”

Do you sometimes think “It’s already impossible,” and “I won’t pass anyway,” and vow “I will work hard from next year,” even though it is too early to give up and the exams period has not yet ended? At a smaller level, even though a class period has not yet ended, do you sometimes think, “I am already late for today’s class so there is no point in going now—I will work hard from tomorrow?” Even if it is incomplete, half-way, or shoddy, what is important is to take action right now, regardless. Have you fallen into a pattern of avoiding action, giving up early, and drafting wonderful plans to take action sometime in the future?

(6) Thinking You are Clearly Inferior to Other Students

Some students, as if separating black from white, draw a sharp line between the students around them who (they think) are on schedule to graduate on-time and themselves (who have fallen behind), and wind up thinking that the other students are “superior” and that they themselves are “inferior.” In fact, just as there are many shades of gray between black and white, there is not really such a clear border between oneself and others. Anxiety pushes people into thinking in dichotomies, and when a student is also isolated, the student finds it difficult to find out that most of the other students do not have much understanding of the course contents either. This is important to understand.

Little Tricks to Escape Falling Behind

(1) Students who Have Difficulty Leaving their Rooms in the Morning

For many students, the greatest obstacle is to wake up in the morning and leave their rooms. Once they do leave, they find it easy to head off to university, but they somehow find it too troublesome to leave their rooms, and wind up idly wasting time inside. While they know they must get to the university, they just waste time, lounging about. Unpleasant images arise, and it becomes increasingly difficult to leave. One hour and then two hours slip by, and they wind up pledging to “work hard from tomorrow.”

If you are experiencing such a pattern, the important thing is to form the habit of heading out in the morning, no matter what. One student found he could free himself from this pattern with a little trick. He decided to head out to a vending machine in the neighborhood when he gets up in the morning to buy and drink a can of coffee. When he leaves his room, he does not think about going to university, he just thinks about heading out to drink the can of coffee. Then, once he has drunk his coffee, he finds it is not such a struggle to proceed to the university, and with this he can go easily.

He says that by continuing this for some time every weekday, it has become a habit, and going to the university has now become natural.

With an investment of ¥130 a day, or around ¥3,000 per month, this student was able to break his old pattern of being unable to leave his room in the morning and not going to university.

It doesn’t have to be a vending machine. A convenience store should work just as well. Just find a place in your neighborhood where you can give yourself a little treat, and make a habit of going there. But do not choose a place that is too comfortable, where you might wind up spending too much time. We would not recommend a coffee house with a comfortable sofa where you might spend hours, or you might just waste your time there instead of wasting time in your own room.

(2) Students who Do Not Know Anyone Else in the Class and Cannot Obtain Class Information When Absent

Students who fall behind schedule for on-time graduation often wind up taking classes where they do not know any of the other students. In such cases, when they are absent, they find it difficult to get lecture notes and test information from the other students.

Students who do not know anyone in a class could start up a conversation and try to make some friends, but in practice it takes a lot of nerve to start speaking to someone you do not know, ask about a class you missed, and ask them to show you their notes. Some students see that as a higher barrier than going to classes.

A contemporary way to overcome this situation is by using the Internet.

A typical example is the chat room on the kyoto-u.com community Internet site for Kyoto University students. Some of the faculties have LINE groups for students who have fallen behind schedule to exchange information.

One skilled IT user searched Twitter using the professor and class names, found a student who was currently taking the class, sent a message, and received the information he required.

If you have friends (or friends of friends) from your high school years attending Kyoto University, you can also contact them via SNS and find out if they know someone who is taking the same class.

So, you can seek information by fully utilizing your actual network of people along with the Internet.

(3) Live a Normal, Interesting Life

Avoid the pattern of slipping from being behind schedule for on-time graduation to confining yourself to your room and withdrawing from society. Re-establish your lifestyle rhythm. Have a place where you can go out and do things, inside or outside the university. Part-time work, volunteer activities, and hobbies are all just fine. It may also help to take credentials and certifications unrelated to your primary field of study.

It is necessary to stay inside and rest when you feel overwhelmed with depression and completely discouraged. But you need to think of starting some sort of activity once you have had some rest and your strength has been somewhat restored. Prolonged withdrawal from society will advance the vicious cycle of falling further behind.

So, you should think about your university studies bit by bit, as you regain your spirit while maintaining a regular lifestyle.

Career after Falling Behind or Dropping Out

If you are having tragic thoughts such as, “If I fall behind, it’s all over,” or “If I drop out, it will be a catastrophe,” you need to think rationally. On average nationwide, about 10% of the students who enter Japanese universities drop out before graduating. In other words, approximately 50,000 university dropouts are generated each year. Moreover, about 20% of university students are behind schedule for on-time graduation. The number of people who have dropped out of university or graduated late is that huge. According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare “Longitudinal Survey of Adults in the 21st Century” (2012 survey), one out of ten people in their 20s (excluding those presently enrolled) are dropouts (including high school, junior college, and technical school dropouts).

According to Professor Koichiro Komikawa (2013), just 41 out of every 100 people who enter high school graduate from school on time without dropping out, gain employment, and keep working at the same company for at least three years. Out of the remaining 59, six proceed to graduate school but the other 53 fall behind schedule, drop out, or quit their jobs. Thus, out of 100 people, less than half are employed with an on-time academic record and work at the same company for three or more years.

Some students who fall behind schedule for on-time graduation may worry that they will have a disadvantage in job hunting if they drop out. To be sure, that reality cannot be denied, given the present intolerant employment policies at many companies. One survey indicates that overall the percentage of workers with irregular employment is high among college dropouts. The survey indicates that college dropouts face difficult employment conditions in various other ways as well. For details, you can refer to the Japanese-language paper Daigaku to chutaisha no shuro to ishiki ni kansuru kenkyu [Research on the Employment and Awareness of University Dropouts] (Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, 2015). Knowing these objective facts is important in choosing your path forward.

Knowing these unreasonable current conditions does not imply, by any means, that dropping out of university means your life is over, or some sort of catastrophe. The above-mentioned surveys do not indicate that all college dropouts are unemployed, or never become regular full-time employees. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of college. So did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son. Many college dropouts participate actively in society including [the Japanese comedian] Tamori, [the record producer] Yasushi Akimoto, and [the actor] Masato Sakai. This is not limited to such famous people. There are any number of college dropouts with regular work lives supporting society. And of course, there are even more who graduated behind schedule.

Kyoto University is an elite university that is very difficult to enter. Naturally, most people around you will not recommend that you withdraw, and will encourage you to work very hard and graduate, even if it takes years. You probably feel the same way yourself. If you really do want to graduate, that is only natural, and it is helpful.

However, speaking honestly, some of you may find no meaning in university life, want to withdraw, and feel that may be best, but think you cannot leave after all because of the fearful image that “your life will be destroyed” if you drop out. Even though you know in your heart that university is not for you, and want to quit, you may ignore that because of a belief that quitting something after you have started it means you are a coward and a loser. Some students may find they just can’t say they are quitting university because they would feel guilty about disappointing their parents, who expect them to graduate, and the professors who have helped them.

If your choice to continue with university studies is mostly based on such reasons for why you cannot withdraw, you may want to take a moment to calmly and practically consider the option of withdrawal. Think about what you can do if you quit university. Try to listen to your true desires deep inside your heart and your belly. After fully working through this, you may decide that you want to continue your university studies after all. Even in that case, examining the option of quitting is not a useless exercise. Choosing to continue after fully considering the option of dropping out is positive and proactive behavior.

Everyone’s lifetime is limited and precious. We want all of you to make beneficial decisions. Given the present conditions of Japanese society, such decisions are difficult for everyone. When you come to a crossroads in life, there are no perfect decisions that absolutely will not fail. It is only natural to be confused, and falter. If you need assistance, our counselors can help you examine your choices. At the same time, we should all work together toward realizing a society where university students can freely change their academic and career paths without concern.