Varying Academic Rigor in Different Post-secondary Schools.

Thanks to the experience of numerous first-generation college students (and first-generation students to-be like Ronnie Estoque), a question for many prospective students is formed when considering a post-secondary education institution (when applicable). This question is: why are some institutions more rigorous than others when they offer the same bachelor degrees? In his article posted to The Seattle Times, Estoque mentions there are “college-readiness programs” that help prepare students prepare for the academic rigor of college (Estoque). However, what exactly is college rigor, and why does it vary between institutions when they offer the same degree.

College Raptor’s Allison Wignall defines “academic rigor” as “the academic or intellectual challenge of a class” (Wignall). This is important to understand because all colleges have their own standard of academic rigor. This “standard” is likely tied to two major factors: the previous rigor of all incoming students and established reputation. Post-secondary institutions can base their own rigor off of the backgrounds of their incoming accepted students. Meanwhile, they have a previous academic rigor model to deviate from (as needed) that likely also serves as their reputational foundation. The last component would be that many higher education schools conduct research and require funding. This funding is more likely to be awarded to a more academically rigorous school than one that isn’t.

These days, with so many institutions for higher learning being present in the US, we have to acknowledge that many international students want to further their educations here besides US students. Admittedly, this creates a tougher environment for US students with higher educational standards as competing international students will “raise the bar” for requirements as they “are applying in record numbers, and are often the best and brightest from around the world” (PrepWell Academy). This is important for US students as they now must compete with their GPAs, academic rigor, and extracurricular activities against not only other US students, but now against a growing international student applicant pool. While not extremely versed in the nuances of college admissions, a higher learning institution will likely look into the academic rigor of a prospective student’s previous course load (usually from an applicant’s high school career) in their determination of whether a student will be successful at their institution or not. This is because post-secondary institutions simply do not want to accept students who will undoubtedly fail to meet the set academic standards.

While understandable, many students still felt disadvantaged as an objective assessment and comparison of their competition resulted in seeing tremendous hurdles. Wignall reminds her audience of prospective students that, “colleges prefer to see a dedication to the few, rather than only dabbling in the many” in regards to rigor versus GPA (Wignall). Post-secondary institutions don’t just want students with high GPAs, they want to see well-rounded students who appear capable of handling a wide range of commitments in order to determine whether they can handle the rigor of their course work or not. What results is the formation of a class of students that the institution deems capable of not only capable of managing, but also succeeding at the rigor of their studies. Despite this attempt by many post-secondaries to not just admit students who can only produce strong grades, many did not want to seem extremely difficult with unobtainable standards. They realized they must at least maintain the difficulty of their course work that has garnered the reputation that the institution had already made itself. However, several institutions underwent a re-examination of their academic rigor to find out whether or not their standards were too difficult.

This re-examination resulted in these institutions regarding their “standards” as being too high, which lead to a gradual decrease in their academic rigor. Due to this decrease, an article by NPR staff cited a study that said, “35 percent of students reported studying five hours per week or less, and 50 percent said they didn’t have a single course that required 20 pages of writing in their previous semester” (NPR Staff). This data suggests that students graduating from institutions of reduced rigor are less equipped to handle “real world” situations in a work environment due to a decrease in what the article claimed as part of the reason for a decline in critical thinking skills. To further this point of reduced rigor, Annie Holmquist’s article “Is College Really Getting Easier?” about another author’s article posted on The Atlantic explains that students are studying less despite grades and graduation rates are increasing (Holmquist). While one can make the argument that students are generally getting smarter, it brings our attention back towards the issue at hand of why higher learning institutions have varying levels of academic rigor when they offer the same degrees.

It is impossible to conduct an assessment into why different institutions have varying difficulties than others without factoring in additional varying factors. We get it, school is tougher for students who are trying to balance a course load that is rather rigorous than students taking easier courses. According to Wignall, the ideal answer to a situation of academic rigor versus a high GPA is to have “both” with a more realistic answer being “a balance between the two” (Wagnall). This likely translates into post-secondary education when the next group to consider your merits will be employers. However, that still doesn’t exactly explain why different schools have varying levels of academic rigor.

Different schools have varying levels of academic rigor. For an incoming student to-be like Ronnie Estoque, many had to get past a tough part that Estoque doesn’t mention: choosing a school. Despite many institutions offering the same degrees (i.e., Bachelor of Arts/ Science in Accounting, English, Finance, etc.), we objectively can see that some schools are without a doubt tougher than others. While there may be many more factors that influence why a school might be more rigorous than its competitors, we explored two selected factors: past rigor, and reputation. In my opinion, these serve as the more impactful factors, but further research could be conducted to examine if the other factors are actually more impactful.


Brennen, Amy. “Why Is It so Hard to Get into Top Universities? Here Are Three Reasons Why.” Medium, Medium, 23 Jan. 2020,

Estoque, Ronnie. “Student Voices: I’m One of the First in My Family to Attend College. Here’s How I Got There.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 2 Aug. 2017,

Holmquist, Annie. “Is College Really Getting Easier?” Intellectual Takeout, Intellectual Takeout, 25 July 2019,

NPR Staff. “A Lack Of Rigor Leaves Students ‘Adrift’ In College.” NPR, NPR, 9 Feb. 2011,

“PrepWell Blog.” PrepWell Academy Why Is It so Hard to Get into College Today Comments,

“Reputation Without Rigor.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, 19 Aug. 2009,

Wignall, Allison. “What’s Academic Rigor? Why Is It So Important? .” College Raptor, College Raptor, 18 Aug. 2020,


Clettis Stephens: Academic Profile

Picture of Clettis Stephens

Selfie of Clettis Stephens

An adage that we all have likely heard before goes: “patience is a virtue”, which truly fits Clettis Stephens. Along with using the Japanese proverb: “fall seven times and stand up eight” (Reynolds, 2011) to describe him, I have the pleasure of introducing our resilient classmate Clettis Stephens who recently allowed me the opportunity to view his stance on his academic self. Through learning more about him, I came to find that he can be a bit too critical towards himself, but this has only served to keep him humble and motivated as he strives to achieve a personal goal whilst refusing to give up for his own and his family’s sakes. Currently in his third semester at GSU majoring in computer science, he has shown he is a persistent individual who treads carefully due to an ongoing fear of failure. This fear, though, serves as a driving force to try his hardest in his third attempt at receiving a college degree.

Clettis comes from “an area where a majority of my family members did not make it to college”. He expanded on that statement by adding “I’m not sure most of them made it out of high school”. Given this explanation, it’s understandable why he carries this fear of failure as it is apparent that he doesn’t want to simply be a statistic along with that majority of his family members he mentioned. With this kind of environment as a foundation in mind, his self-reflected description of his academic self was: nervous, pessimistic, and overworking. However, now at a point in life where he has his own family (a wife and three children), Clettis has made yet another attempt to ensure he has a different outcome from the setting he grew up around despite carrying a negative outlook on his academic self.

In citing his biggest influence on his academic self being his fear of failure, Clettis referred to previous college attempts by saying “I tend to deal with thinking I will have to retake classes halfway through the semester due to not receiving the grades that I would like to have”. However, a fear of failure is not Clettis’ only influence on his academic self. He also cited his wife and kids as also being his largest influence as “they motivate me to do better at everything I do”. During my opportunity to pick his brain I came to realize that while Clettis is rather negative towards himself in self-reflection, his wife and children serve as an even bigger inspiration for him that supersedes his own fears and self-description evidenced by the fact that he has returned to school now three times. He endeavors to be a father who shows his children that nothing is impossible, and that they “can do any and everything you put your mind to as long as you put the work in”.

Despite now having his own family to care for, Clettis has given college education another shot in becoming a career corporate systems analyst showing that nothing in life really is ever “too late”. My advice to Clettis is to continue trying your best to organize your time help make you successful, for as Dr. Chew of Samford University states, “You have to commit the time and hard work necessary to succeed” followed by his advice, “You have to recognize that the time you have will limit your likelihood of success” (Samford University, 2011). Clettis has likely accomplished more in his personal life than many of his fellow students at GSU (with many personal/ professional high and low points), but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to complete a degree from a college institution. I found myself relating a lot to Clettis’ self-description, but ultimately felt that he should give himself more credit. I enjoyed my chance to get to know Clettis, and would really enjoy if he gave me more opportunity to learn from him in the future to further develop my own academic self.





Reynolds, G. (2011, March 24). Fall down seven times, get Up eight: The power of japanese resilience. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from

Samford University. (2011, August 16). How to Get the Most Out of Studying: Part 1 of 5, “Beliefs That Make You Fail… Or Succeed” [Video]. Youtube. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from