7 Things First-Year Students Fear About College
There’s this little secret college-bound and first-year college students outwardly deny: They are scared sick about going off to college. In our interviews with 175 college students throughout the United States for Survival Secrets of College Students (Barron’s, 2007) students talked—sometimes painfully—about what they wished they’d known ahead of time and what they would have done differently. When asked what he worried about before getting to Grinnell College (IA), Ian Young said, “Whether I would make friends. Whether my roommate was going to be a weirdo. Whether I learned anything in high school.” Aaron Castro, heading to the United States Naval Academy (MD), said that at first leaving home to become surrounded by the unknown was a terrifying thought. And Sandra Lazo de la Vega, preparing to go to Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College, stewed about “buying things. It seemed like all the stores were selling everything and I needed to get one of each color.” Here are the top worries, and advice on how to deal with them:
1. Am I smart enough?
It doesn’t matter whether students are heading to large public universities, small elite private colleges, or somewhere else. They wonder if they are smart enough to continue the string of As and Bs, maybe Cs, they compiled in high school. The specter of Ds and Fs drifts around because students have heard college is really different—and much harder—than high school. Even students who had taken multiple AP classes were anxious because many other first-years also had a slew of APs. As one student told us: “Everybody is smart here. Can I make it?”
The students discovered after making it through the first college semester that the blueprint to academic success takes three things: organization, time management and getting to know professors. Students need to know:
* A semester-long calendar created from syllabi on Day 1 of classes will work wonders—if it’s followed.
* You often do not have to read every word of those 150-page assignments—once you learn how to scan, concentrate and read parts that seem important.
* If you take an 8 a.m. class, make sure it’s in something that interests you, or you’ll just go back to sleep.
2. Will my roommate be weird?
Students show up, unpack a mountain of boxes, suitcases and maybe even a palm tree—and immediately start living with one or more strangers. Suddenly space is a rare commodity, quiet time is somewhere else, lights-out may be 10:00 p.m., 2:00 a.m. or both. Roommates may become best friends. More likely, they find ways to compromise and respect each other’s space and needs, understanding that nothing is forever. Students need to know:
* If a roommate is physically or verbally threatening or abusive, talk to the counselor and/or the dean immediately and request a change of housing. Parents also should be aware of what’s going on.
* You don’t have to be your roommate’s mom and wake him or her for class.
* Having sex with someone while your roommate is in the room is rude and against the rules.
3. Where’s my new best friend?
First-year students arrive for orientation amid a bunch of other students the same age and equally scared. Even outgoing students who had a plethora of friends in high school felt intimidated. They mainly missed having someone who knew their back-story and could understand unspoken context of comments and ideas. Students need to know:
- Orientation is “like summer camp on steroids” and a great way to make friends.
- New friends in the fall may not be the same friends you hang with in the spring.
- Avoid talking all the time about your old friends back home, or comparing your new friends with old ones.
4. Will I be okay without my folks, my dog and my car?
Sometime that first semester—whether it’s after the first three hours or the first three months—students will miss their own big bed in their own room, a normal-sized sink, not having to wear sandals to the shower, and a home-cooked meal. Angela Kinney at Saint Louis University (MO) said she wished she had known that “it’s okay to have bad days and miss your family and to want to be home.” As antidotes, some bury themselves in way too many activities while others do the opposite and hibernate with their books. Students need to know:
* Not every day is going to be a big party and great fun.
* Something physical—Frisbee, table tennis, the gym—lets you mix with others and work off stress.
* If homesickness sticks, go to the counselor sooner rather than later.
5. Where’s the party?
Parties happen at college. A lot. Colleges may ban alcohol on campus, limit parties serving alcohol to students of legal drinking age, and prohibit alcohol in residence halls. But, students told us, you usually can find whatever you want, even if such usage is not the norm on campus. Sometimes bad things happen. One student told how he went out with acquaintances—not good friends— and woke up in the ER the next morning with alcohol poisoning. Students stressed, however, that you don’t have to participate in the party scene to find friends who prefer other ways to have fun. Students need to know:
* Not everyone parties to unconsciousness from Friday through Sunday.
* Sometimes telling someone you like him/her is due to drinking. Be careful.
* Amazing people turn into foolish people or worse at alcohol-laden parties.
6. Where’s the money?
Your wallet is like a sieve, your bank account is overdrawn—again—and your folks say you are on your own. Money, how to get it, spend it, and have enough is a huge issue. Students need to know:
- Cheaper books, cheaper meals, cheaper fun—they really exist.
- The best jobs allow you to study at work and have flexible scheduling to study for tests.
- Credit cards have a limit for a reason.
7. Is it safe here?
The reality is that it’s almost impossible to have a totally crime-free campus environment -- even in Singapore, the safest country in the world. While security issues vary from campus to campus, student safety is a major focus for all institutions. Security information and phone numbers will be given verbally and in written materials at first-year student orientation. The students interviewed issued strong advice on how to be safe at parties, on campus grounds, and in the residence hall room. Regardless of the setting, students must use basic street smarts. Students need to know:
- Putting your drink down in a public setting is a bad idea; if you do, get yourself a new drink; always get your own drinks.
- The good friends in your party group should take turns not drinking and watch out for the rest of you.
- “Lock it or lose it” is the message for personal property.
- Programming campus security’s number into your cell immediately is very smart.
A significant message for students is that despite their fears, college can provide a safety net—within reason—to experiment, make mistakes, learn and move forward intellectually and socially. A Brandeis University (MA) student talked about how during her first semester at college she “made bad choices, hooked up with guys, was messy, drinking too much.” She didn’t much like that person. She decided to change and try new things. You can avoid her mistake by making a great start at S P Jain -- a big first step toward becoming the adult you really want to be.
[Adapted from an article by Mary Kay Shanley | Julia Johnston at education.com]