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Making the Transition from High School to College

By Olivia Rowley, AmeriCorps Careers Pathways Coach

With the school year coming to a close, you are probably looking toward what’s next. Maybe you’re thinking about your summer job (if you have one), or what fun summer activities you have planned (that follow public health guidelines, of course). Or maybe you’re already looking ahead to the fall semester when you’ll be starting your new life on a college campus.

Maybe this thought of starting college makes you feel a little anxious, excited, and scared. Don’t worry – it’s normal to feel these things when going through a change; change brings uncertainty.

You might be thinking, Yes, this is true. I am feeling all those things, but my question is: What do I have to do? How do I start being a “college student?” This might seem like a silly thought to some, but it’s a valid question. It’s certainly one of the things that I had on my mind when I was about to start college! The jump from high school to college is big. In high school, you have people telling you where to be and when. And, if you don’t adhere to the “rules,” there are repercussions. This isn’t to say that there aren’t repercussions in college, but the repercussions are more abstract in nature and not so immediate. The only person responsible for your success in college is you; if you don’t turn in your papers or don’t study for your exams, the only person who will have to live with the consequences is you  

Some of the questions you should be asking yourself are: What are the things that I should be doing to ensure my success when I first arrive on campus?  Who are the people I should be connecting with? 

  1. MEET WITH YOUR ADVISOR.

Every undergraduate student is assigned an advisor that is part of their designated department (For example, if you are an English major, you will have an advisor from the English department). Advisors help keep you on track for graduation by offering guidance on your core major requirements. Usually, you meet your advisor during orientation when you are signing up for classes for your first semester. Please, though, do not allow this to be the only time you meet with your advisor during your first year!

I encourage you to build a relationship with your advisor. This will be the first person you go to throughout your college career if you are ever struggling with your classes, and they can also be your biggest advocate for success.  For example, maybe you are taking a class that is a core requirement for your major, but you find the professor to be particularly challenging and want to drop the class altogether. Set up an appointment with your advisor and explore options; don’t just drop the class right away without knowing all the facts and how dropping the class might affect you going forward. Your advisor can help you put together a plan and suggest campus resources to help you.

  1. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH CAREER SERVICES.

I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic illustrating that students in universities across the country are not utilizing the full capacity of career services’ resources on campus. This is a shame since this is the department at a university that will help you find a job and offer other professional development resources, like building a resume or mapping out a career plan based on your particular interests and strengths. Even if you think it is too early to start thinking about your career after college, the career services department can help connect you with alumni in fields you may be interested in and  introduce you to internship opportunities.

  1. ATTEND THE STUDENT ACTIVITIES FAIR.

You will find all sorts of clubs, intramural sports, fraternities/sororities, etc. on college campuses. Get involved and start building connections. Go up to a table and inquire about a club that is totally outside your wheelhouse, just to see what the club organizers have to say about it. You might find that it piques your interest!

Overall, this is a time for exploration and testing out different identities. Maybe in high school you were a sports fanatic but in college you discover that your passion is environmentalism, so you put all your time and energy into a sustainability club. The only way to discover this is to try! Don’t be intimidated by older students who are involved in this organizations, either. Remember, they were all first year students exactly like you once and they want to make sure you feel included, as well.

  1. FIND THE TUTORING CENTER.

Notice that I said “find” instead of “go.” You may not need tutoring your first year, and that’s awesome, but it’s most likely that you will at some point during your college years. Like I mentioned before, it’s a big transition from high school to college, and you will find your college classes have much higher expectations. There is no shame seeking additional help. It will only help you be that much more successful in the future.

  1. GO TO YOUR PROFESSORS’ OFFICE HOURS.

If you go to a big school where the class sizes are larger and you have a more difficult time acquiring personal attention from the professor in the classroom, this is absolutely imperative. You need to build relationships with your professors. Ask them questions about themselves and their area of expertise. Ask for help on assignments. And, once you build a personal relationship with your professors, it may help you build the confidence to participate in the classroom if you were previously reticent to do so, which is a common thing as a first semester college student who is away from their high school peers for the first time. Professors also take notice of students who attend their office hours to ask for help and support and establishing that bond with your professor early on can be incredibly helpful throughout your college career. You never know when a professor might need a research or teaching assistant, and your relationship with them may help you nab one of these coveted positions in the future.

  1. REACH OUT TO YOUR ROOMMATE. 

You will be assigned your roommate sometime during the summer after you have filled out your roommate questionnaire (your school will want to pair you with someone with similar interest/habits). Find them on Facebook and/or Instagram. Talk about all the things you need to know about living with one another, even if it seems silly. It’s better to find out now that your roommate is a night owl, while you prefer an early bed time, so you can invest in a sleep mask or ear plugs before arriving on campus! Make a spreadsheet of all the things you need to bring for the room.

And when you’re finally on campus and living with one another, make sure you find time for bonding experiences, even if that means talking over a cup of coffee. Your first year will be much more enjoyable if you can find common ground and mutual respect for the person you are living with.

There you have it. This list may seem daunting, but I can assure you that it will make much more sense when you are on campus and start acclimating to your surroundings. Sooner or later, it will become your new normal and you will wonder why you were ever worried in the first place.

I also want to remind you that school can be expensive; utilize your resources. There are many other things that I didn’t mention on this list that you might find useful. Do your research. Find something that is unique to your school that can help you succeed.

And if you do find yourself struggling to the detriment of your physical and mental health, know that your university has health resources that you can utilize. It is a big change, and everyone copes differently. Do not worry if you need additional support.

Until next time,

Olivia