April 4, 2011
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from High School to College
Thousands of American teenagers who are now enjoying “life at the top” as high school seniors will soon find themselves navigating a brand-new landscape as college freshmen (or first-year students) in September. Many will find the transition to be an easy and seamless one; the majority will encounter some difficulty that will be ironed out by the end of the academic year or the start of the next one. Others will be unprepared, and unable to adapt to the academic demands of college or to the challenges and temptations of campus life.
Don’t assume that, because your teen has always been a really good student, they’ll make an easy transition to college. The reasons can often be hard for many actively engaged parents to swallow. Today’s parents are more directly involved in their children’s lives, in their school work, and their daily schedules than ever before. Many tend to hover over their children, overschedule their kids with daily activities, help them with homework, and closely monitor their progress in the classroom and on the playing field. It can be really hard for parents to let go of this control. It can also be confusing for students who no longer have this management situation in their lives when they start college, and even more difficult for those whose parents continue to hover. What do first-years need to do to make a successful high school to college transition?
New college students will have to change some behaviors and study habits. For instance, first-year students need to continually combat procrastination and “learn how to self-regulate” and manage their own homework and reading assignments. Parents can do their new college student a huge favor by understanding that this time represents a developmental shift in their child’s life. Transitioning your relationship from an adult-child to an adult-adult relationship will help immensely. Give your child some space during that first semester to “go at this alone.” You can continue to support your child, but from a healthy distance.
While they are still at home during the spring and over the summer, you can begin to help them get ready for what’s ahead. One of the best ways students can prepare to “make the change” from high school senior to college freshman is by increasing their volume of reading—reading for pleasure, reading for intellectual purposes. Perhaps the biggest surprise they face when starting classes in the fall is that there’s much more reading required in college.
Let them know that a mix of books, magazines and online content is acceptable, but that allowing reading online exclusively might not be a good approach. While some faculty members are scrambling to integrate social media in the classroom, others operate from the perspective that students have to adapt to the ways of the academy, which emphasizes reading books. Your student will get professors from both schools of thought--and they’ll have to adapt to both.
Once on campus, your student will no doubt benefit from the fact that more campuses now offer transitional programs to help them adjust to campus life and to the rigorous academic demands they face in college. One important lesson that many of these programs fail to emphasize is the importance of making friends during a student’s first semester—and the impact that the kind of friends they make can have on their success in college.
For example, it’s very easy for procrastinators to attract other procrastinators, and too many students become friends with other students who can, and too often do, aid them in sabotaging their own academic success. Incoming freshmen would do well to select their friends carefully, and to look to establish friendships with those who can help them to succeed—not drag them down.
To really learn in college, students must be prepared to interact with professors and peers who continually challenge their present understanding of the world. This is very different from high school, and is one of the great secrets of American higher education. Instead of thinking about college as a place where professors are responsible for “teaching” them new information, students should see themselves as partners in the learning process.
True learning will involve more than mere collection and absorption-and more than doing the minimum amount of work. Understanding this will help students succeed in college and well into their careers.
Laurie L. Hazard is a scholar of first-year-student transitions at Bryant University in Rhode Island, where she serves as director of the university’s Academic Center for Excellence. She is co-author of Foundations for Learning: Claiming Your Education, 3rd edition, (Prentice Hall, 2011), a book designed to help students with the first-year college transition.
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