If we look at math as a language, a set of symbols that can be used to express relationships among elements of logic, we can see that, while the ordinary social experiences of a teenage (or highschool) student automatically build a verbal vocabulary, the same cannot be said of the mathematical language. After trigonometry and geometry, math learning becomes alienated from real-life experiences. Therefore, excellence in math skills is a good indicator of a student's ability to learn abstractions; the college applications often divide on this indicator: Is the highschool student mentally ready to tackle college-level learning? Those students with good math skills stand out for this reason.
For new students trying to enroll into college, for math, it may be the biggest hurdle for many but not all. Like, for me, math came easy and wasn't the hard for me at all, even when I was a new student enrolling in college. For me, writing was hard. Back then (and still do), I have a great apprehension to writing.
Now, why it's harder for some than others, that is still the $64,000 question for many. There is no one correct answer. For some, it is because they had poor math teachers in high school. It may be they will have some tough math teachers in college. For some, it is because they didn't work and study hard enough in high school to learn it. For some, it may be per the college policy. For instance, I know one high school student who was allowed to take a math class at a college his senior year in high school. When he was a junior in high school, he took Pre-Cal and got a C. When he got approval to take college classes, he was required to take a test on a computer for his math placement. He has a test anxiety, especially taking them on computers. So, he didn't do well on the test. So, for the college math class he took his senior year of high school, it was equivalent to his Algebra 1 class he had his freshman year. The college never did consider his transcript from high school, only his score on the computer placement test. I could have even seen requiring him to take Pre-Cal again in the college class. But, that was 2 levels "above" where he tested.
Given this information, jakande, I wish I could give you one or two items how you could explain to new students that math is the biggest hurdle to get over. What I would try is this, possibly, if it ever comes up.
A similar question math teachers get a lot is, "When will we ever need to use this in the real world?" What I ask back is, "Why do football players bench press weights?" I explain that nowhere in a football game is there a point where football players are asked to lay on their back and benchpress 300 pounds over their heads several times. "So, why benchpress?" All students have been able to answer, "Because it makes them stronger; it makes them better football players." I explain to the students, "That's what math is for the average person. In this class, we solve problems. In the real world, you will have problems to solve. Now, the technique may not be the same to solve the problems out in the real world that we solve in here. But, similar with football and bench press, it's been found that the ability to solve problems in this class is the same ability as solving problems in the real world. Math class to the real world is like bench press to a football player."
I hope this helps, jakande. Good luck.