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Oakes's Corner

Transitioning into College

By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

The 2010/2011 academic year has begun and, like any other year, a large number of student across the country are making a transition from high school to college. For most, this is the first time they will be away from their parents for an extended amount of time. This can be a very anxious period for them. Jacques Steinberg, writer for the Education Section of the New York Times, says that many incoming students have never even heard the buzz of an alarm clock. Making friends after having been making new friends with the same peers for a number of years also causes anxiety. Those who may have struggles socially in the past may view this transition as a repeat of what they had to endure in high school. Academically, students have been told their entire lives that classes are not monitored, that students can come and go as they please and that grades are often based on a mid-term and final exam. Issues of new found independence, time management and finding a safe social niche run through each student’s veins as they first step foot onto their new campus. Much research has been done about this transition, and colleges and universities have developed programs for incoming students to make it as smooth as possible. But what can students do for themselves to further relieve this anxiety? Below are seven sure bets for making a successful transition to college-

  1. Get a roommate- Many would instinctually want to have a single room for their own privacy, a place they can go back to and recharge after being exposed to all the anxious moments that come with being in a new environment. The truth is that having a new roommate will ease the anxiety. First off, roommates commiserate one another so that they won’t feel alone. They make each other aware of upcoming dorm and social activities and meetings. They give each other the courage to go out, to meet people. They share their positive and negative experiences in and out of the classroom. They make sure that no one sleeps through an alarm and misses class. Roommates look after each other and provide comfort when comfort is needed.
  2. Use advisors and professors- Every student has an advisor. Most believe that the advisor’s role is to guide the student through selecting courses and making sure that the student’s academic needs are met. Professors are also believed to serve a finite role, that of molding the minds of their students. Though true, advisor and professors may also be role models or mentors, people ready to listen to the students’ issues and recommend or assist in a course of action. Advisors and professors are meant to make sure that students are having the experience they want to have and that they are meeting the goals they set out for themselves. Richard Light, Professor of Education at Harvard University, states that “the widely held belief that colleges should admit talented students and then "get out of their way" is directly contrary to what students actually want; students report that some of their most meaningful college experiences involve those teachers and administrators who actively "get in their way" by offering advice, opportunities, and challenges.” Students should seek out a different professor each semester to build a meaningful relationship with. By the end of their senior year, they will have eight professors they can go to for immediate assistance and advice on their future.
  3. Get involved- Colleges and universities have many ways students can get involved. Whether it be through varsity or intramural athletics, community organizations, clubs, theater, Greek life, student government or even employment , students have a vast network of opportunities to meet new people and become members of the community. Professor Light goes on to stress that “extracurricular activities and jobs do not detract from academic performance; instead, they increase students' overall satisfaction with their college experience and contribute to learning.” Furthermore, by adding structure to the day, students are more apt to use their free time more productively. This is a valuable lesson in the effectiveness of time management.
  4. Find consistency in every day- A large portion of time management is the ability to identify a time to play and a time to work. By developing a consistent daily schedule, students are more apt to follow that rule. College is a rich academic as well as social experience for most. The social piece should not and cannot be ignored. It is an important part of growing up. There are plenty of distractions that may detract students from their work. There is an “Animal House” scene on virtually all campuses. By keeping a schedule, students can approach each day much like working adults do. They go to work between certain hours and, at the end of the day, they may feel deserving of a night out.
  5. Find a study partner or group- Studying with someone else or a group of others will increase the likelihood that students will better understand the material. In addition, often the workload can be so overwhelming that doing it all is impossible for some. By divvying up the work, nothing will be missed. Finally, a group can work to each individual’s strength. Students can be teachers as well.
  6. Welcome diversity- Through extra-curricular offerings, students are not only managing their time more effectively and actively exploring their personal interests but they are meeting a diverse population, one that was very likely absent at their high school. Through Professor Light’s research and student interviews, he was able to determine that “students are overwhelmingly positive about the value of racial and ethnic diversity, with white students being the most positive about it. Of 120 students that Light personally interviewed about this question, 111 readily offered examples of how they had learned from those of different racial and ethnic groups. Surprisingly, only about 20 percent of that learning occurred in the classroom, while 80 percent occurred in residence halls and while pursuing group activities such as rehearsals for theater or dance performances.”
  7. Explore unfamiliar subjects- For four years, freshmen students have been following a rigid curriculum. The list of offerings has been limited and they have grown comfortable with one subject or another. As freshmen, the tendency is to choose courses that are more familiar, courses related to subjects they have taken and liked. College is an opportunity for students to explore other topics and to develop other intellectual interests. There are core requirements at most institutions but students have four years to fulfill them. In addition, the requirements are so broad that many courses will meet more than one of them. For instance, Political Science and History often overlap as do other social sciences. By exploring subjects unfamiliar to them, students will be more apt to finding their true passion making their time in college more exhilarating.

If you would like to find out more about this topic, I recommend you purchase Professor Richard Light’s book entitled ‘Making the Most out of College: Students Speak Their Mind’ (ISBN 0674004787). Also, feel free contact me with any further questions.

School of the Month

Proctor Academy, Andover, NH-


Proctor Academy is a co-educational boarding school located approximately one and a half hours north of Boston. For decades now, Proctor Academy has been an innovator in promoting and emphasizing experiential education. In addition, though Proctor Academy is not considered a school for students with learning differences, it comfortably accommodates those who have been diagnosed with ADHD and/or Dyslexia and executive functioning issues.

Central to the school’s philosophy is the belief that experiential education is an effective means of learning. Students are encouraged to take advantage of Proctor Academy’s many off campus programs. They include programs in France, Spain, Morocco, the Southwest and at sea. In addition, there is a two week project period sponsored by faculty member. During this time, student may pursue their personal interests on or off campus. Proctor Academy is able to offer these unique programs while still maintaining a rigorous academic curriculum and a competitive athletic schedule.

The Learning Skills Center, which includes a state of the art library, is located at the center of campus. Students who require study skills instruction or tutoring and who have been diagnosed with some form of learning difference may take part in the Learning Skills program for an additional fee.

For more information, please contact Chris Bartlett, Director of Admissions, at 603-735-6260 or at