Making the big leap from high school to college
August 19, 2016
During his freshman year of college at the University of Utah, South Summit High School alumnus Nick Jacobs went white water rafting in Idaho, attended a forum featuring one of George W. Bush's former speech writers, found his passion for political science and started learning Mandarin.
That may seem like a lot to cram into one year of college, but for Jacobs and most other college students that is just what freshman year is like, a whirlwind of discovering new things.
As recent high school grads from all over Summit County get ready to head to college, they will be afforded many of the same opportunities..
The trick is taking advantage of them, and that is easily achievable when students are prepared and set up for success during their freshman year. Here are some of the best ways to do that.
Before You Go
Before starting his freshman year at Utah, Jacobs visited the campus several times over the summer to ensure he was prepared to start classes.
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"Most colleges are pretty quiet over the summer so that was advantageous," he said. "In the first two weeks, everyone is going to help you out but they've generally got help everyone. If you walk in during the summer or set-up an appointment you get a little more individual focus."
That same advice applies to students who may be heading out of state for college. If a campus visit isn't possible, students can call or email an academic advisor to get help before arriving at school.
Amy Regan works as an Outreach Advisor for TRIO Educational Talent Search at South Summit High School where she helps low-income, first-generation students prepare for college.
When registering for classes, Regan said students should consider taking one that will allow them to relax a little.
"Don't overload yourself with the hardest classes, especially your first semester," she said. "Take one class that is fun, a dance class if you like to dance or a P.E. class or something that will help you just destress a little bit. You need to take your 12 or 15 hours depending on what your school requires or if you have a scholarship, but don't try to do it all in one semester or one year."
Regan said students can benefit from making a mental adjustment before they even arrive on campus.
"Students should just go in with an open mind and a willingness to listen and get to know other people," she said.
Students who are prepared both academically and mentally before they arrive on campus are the most likely to be successful.
Arriving at School
It is one thing to talk about making the adjustment to college but for most students that process doesn't really began until they move into the dorm or take a seat in their first college class.
Once students arrive on campus, Regan said the biggest favor they can do for themselves is locate campus resources.
"College campuses have so many resources available to students that they can go to for help," she said.
Those resources may include:
- Financial Aid Office: The financial aid office will have all the resources for students relating to scholarships, grants, loans and other aspects of paying for college.
- Health Services: Many colleges have on campus health centers for students to visit, find that or locate the nearest hospital.
- Counseling Services: Almost all colleges today have some form of counseling center on campus where students can get help if they are feeling overwhelmed.
- Tutoring centers: Most college campus today have tutoring centers for all topics such as math, science, or a writing center where students can take their papers to be proofread.
- Resident Assistant: For students living in the dorms their RA will be their go to person for roommate problems, housing questions and any other help they need.
In addition, there are many campus clubs, groups and organizations that students can join to meet new people and try new things.
Jacobs said freshman college students arrive having already heard the phrase 'get involved' so often it seems pointless, but involvement on campus can be surprisingly unique.
"The connotation for most people coming out of high school is like join some club or play intermural sports, but the way you should get involved is in something that interests you," he said. "Don't join the stereotypical involvement clubs if those don't interest you. There is just a litany of different things you can do, chances are your niche is out there in the form of a club or of some activity or another, just go find it."
On-campus housing is one way for students to meet new people who have the similar interests. Many Utah colleges now have housing floors categorized as "living learning communities" where students with common interests live together.
Regan said students should try and branch out when it comes to finding roommates at college.
"Don't move in with the kids you went to high school with, meet some new people," she said. "If you come home every weekend and you hang out with the people you went to high school with you are not going to know what it's like to go to college, it's just going to be a continuation of high school. Don't come home every weekend, in fact, don't come home until Thanksgiving. Get your feet under you, see what it's like to count on yourself."
Getting settled during the first few weeks of college can be hard but college campus are built to benefit students and students simply have to take advantage of that.
Throughout the Year
After the first few weeks, students start to adjust and find their way at school but are then faced with the challenge of college coursework.
Universities usually have a more rigorous curriculum and harder classes than high school, but Jacobs said students should not shy away from challenging themselves.
"I took a forum series course which was basically, you show up to a bunch of forums and then write on them," he said. "The professor was incredible, she was a really solid writer and my papers came back essentially dripping in red but that improved my writing a lot."
Jacobs said during his first semester and subsequent years he learned to balance his classes and his social life through scheduling.
"With your harder classes I feel like you should make sure you put in an hour every day and then that usually gives you a little more leeway," he said. "If you put in solid work Monday through Friday it's a little easier to take the weekends off. You kind of have to know when and when you cannot spare time to hang out with friends or something."
Students who hold themselves accountable for their own work and study habits will likely find more success in college because, unlike earlier educational experiences, no one else will be telling them what to do.
Now, three years into his college experience, Jacobs has learned a lot both in and out of the classroom. He said that perhaps one of the things he took for granted the most his freshman year was sleep.
"I think freshman year you engage in a lot of unhealthy behaviors that you tone down on later in college, and sleep is pretty helpful especially for people who are writing," he said. "I had a professor who said she always took a nap before turning something in, she forced herself to take a nap even if she had an hour deadline. She would go into a closet and sleep for like five or 10 minutes and then go look over her paper and turn it in."
That advice is one of the many small things that Jacob has picked up that has helped him become a successful student. He said those little bits of wisdom may even be be more helpful than broad overarching advice.
Students heading into their freshman year at college are entering one of the most turbulent and exciting times of their lives, but with guidance, patience and an open mind the experience will be a good one.
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