By Kathleen Alvarez
Most high school graduates are ready to start their college careers after senior year. But what can they expect when they arrive on campus, and how can they get ready?
Many students have heard the important tips: Get involved in clubs and activities, be sure to transfer AP credits, call home once in a while and stay busy to overcome homesickness.
But what about the few weeks before college starts, when students are overwhelmed and worried about what they might encounter once school begins?
Adam Materasso, co-director of college guidance at Ranney School, offers recommendations about what students can do before leaving home. Joining the Class of 2018 Facebook group is often the first step to meeting classmates and finding information about concerns or questions before arriving on campus.
However, an important thing to remember when interacting with future classmates is attitude. Materasso stresses being open-minded about roommates as well as they stereotypes and feedback they may have heard from other students.
“I want them to see for themselves and then make their own opinion of the school,” he said.
As move-in day approaches, students may start feeling nervous or anxious about leaving home and packing their belongings. Over-packing is not the best approach. “You’re probably going to be in a room that is smaller than your bedroom at home, where your bed becomes your couch and your desk, too,” he said.
Deana Rauh, a junior at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, said, “The main thing I felt was excitement. I was so excited and eager to go that any nerves I had were minimal.”
One way to get excited is to attend freshman orientation. Most schools offer orientation programs during the summer or a few days before classes begin.
William Gorman, first-year advisor, master tutor, clinical faculty supervisor of the School of Education and faculty member at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, said one of the goals of orientation at Monmouth is to help students “create a bond which will help them transition to university life.” Students can meet professors, faculty and their advisor, who can help them create a schedule of classes and offer academic and career advice. Orientation is also the time when students learn about the resources available to help them through their first year. Monmouth’s Center for Student Success offers tutoring services, academic skills seminars and workshops, supplemental instruction, the Math Learning Center, internships, career planning and development, writing services, counseling and psychological services, residence life programming options and activities, and first-year faculty advisors. Students can find help with whatever they need – as long as they reach out and seek guidance.
Students should remember that starting college means entering an entirely new environment – academically and socially. Gorman finds many students have difficulty adjusting in these two areas.
“[Students] are now in an environment with new people and for those that are resident students, they must get used to living within a residence hall and being part of a community, and getting along with people they have not met before.”
Getting involved early in activities and clubs can help students adjust socially.
Often, it’s the people who live nearby who become close friends. Deana says her freshman hall was where she found some of her best friends. “They were the ones I planned my schedules with and stayed up late writing papers and hung out with on the weekends. They were the first friends I made … we’re all still close.”
Although the new freedom and social scene is exciting, students should remember that they are attending school, and the fun is just an added bonus. As Deana points out, students should work to use their unstructured time efficiently. “All the new experiences sometimes made doing my work pretty unappealing.”
Materasso agrees. “They go from having a day that is prescribed by the school to making their own schedule and planning their own free time,” he said.
Time management is key, and often the hardest thing for students to master. Students have to take the organizational skills they learned in high school and use what works best for them – from buying the types of notebooks or binders that work best for them to writing their assignments in the type of planner they prefer.
Academically, the biggest surprise for many students “is the number of opportunities you have in college to earn a grade for a course is a lot less than there are in high school,” Materasso said. In high school there are multiple project grades, homework assignments, quizzes and tests that can buffer a poor grade or an exam. In college, this isn’t the case. Sometimes one test can significantly impact a final grade.
More importantly, students should enjoy themselves. The work will be hard, but college offers countless opportunities and experiences to help students learn and grow. As Gorman said, “They should relax and realize it is the beginning of a fun and enjoyable journey.”