College: What to Expect
Stage l: The Summer of Transition
The days after graduation are filled with satisfaction and some nostalgia about the end of high school. Students anticipate the challenge of college, although their expectations may be somewhat unrealistic. Summer jobs to help pay college costs or summer programs to help prepare for the academic challenges to come are recommended.
Stage 2: Separation Anxiety
Students may be able to avoid the reality of their impending departure until they begin packing the trunk and making travel plans. Then, however, they begin to acknowledge the approaching separation from family, friends, home, and the support of the high school environment. Acute separation anxiety may occur when the day of departure arrives.
Stage 3: The First Term
The freshman academic program may generate severe stress. Students should avoid taking too many courses or enrolling in courses that are too advanced. Meeting roommates and learning the ins and outs of campus bureaucracy and about academic and social expectations may also produce stress. Freshmen should be sure to attend orientation programs.
Stage 4: The Honeymoon
First-year students are ready to be enthralled by everything they see. This is actually a good way to begin a college career because there are wonderful things to see and experience, although they may not happen immediately. The honeymoon stage is also a time when many college students experiment with alcohol, drugs, or sexual activity. It is naive to expect that students will not engage in these behaviors, but it is important that they understand the concepts of choice and moderation, and that they recognize the consequences of their behaviors.
Stage 5: The End of the Honeymoon
The realization dawns that much of college consists of hard work. Nothing will prepare freshmen for the shock of those first papers and quiz grades. This is also a time when students may experience the symptoms or homesickness, longing for the security of home.
Stage 6: The Grass is Always Greener
About midway through the first year, freshmen may begin to think that all their problems with this college could be solved by transferring to another institution. Many problems that seem insurmountable in the first semester are reduced or disappear by the year's end.
Stage 7: You Can't Go Home Again
Students who go away to college and suffer the pain of homesickness often long to return to the familiarity and security of home. After only a few days at home on the first holiday, many freshmen are struck by the realization that it is not that things at home have changed while they were away at college, but that they themselves have changed.
Stage 8: Learning to Cope
After six weeks or so on campus, freshmen can find their way to the library, have had real conversations with their roommates, and are expanding their circle of friends. They begin to enjoy classes, engage in campus activities, and in general, participate more actively in the life of the campus. One of the most important coping skills to learn is how to balance academic, personal and social demands. Time management is crucial.
Stage 9: Fear of Failure
The first midterm examinations may cause considerable stress as freshmen begin to fully appreciate the amount of work that must be done to prepare for them. Final exam time is even worse! The best way to cope with fear of failure is to make sure course preparation is thorough. If students have done the reading, gone to classes, and turned assignments in on time, their grades will be good. One of the most difficult adjustments to college life is learning to be a self-starter. In high school, many people monitored a student's progress. In college, that number boils down to one, the individual student.
Stage 10: Putting it All Together
By the middle of the second semester of the first year, freshmen usually begin to find that classes, residence hall experiences, social activities, and studies have all meshed into a well integrated lifestyle. It becomes clear that success in college depends upon hard work, but the many wonderful opportunities for personal and intellectual growth are also readily apparent.
Adapted from a two-part article in the 1997-8 College Board Review entitled "Stress Points in the College Transition, Part H: Off to College," by R. Fred Zuker, Dean of Admission, Financial Aid, and Student Life, University of Dallas, Irving, Texas.