Transition to College

The Transition to College


Advisers play a critical role in the success of first year students.  First year students are largely unaware of what will be expected of them and are in many cases unprepared for the degree of responsibility they will be asked to assume; advisers help make them aware of their responsibilities both inside and outside the classroom.  Students new to college are also frequently intimidated by their professors, find it hard to speak to them outside of class, and are unfamiliar with the overall structure the University.  Many won’t ask questions or seek help, and most don’t know where to go if they would ask.  Advisers help students have conversations they need to have but don’t necessarily know how to start.  These conversations range from social adjustment to academic adjustment to registration and course selection to major selection and all are opportunities to help students make the adjustment to college life and expectations.


1.  Social adjustment

Many students experience some kind of difficulty making the social transition to college.  Some experience anxiety about making new friends;  some who live on campus will have difficulty adjusting to living with a roommate or sharing a common bathroom; some may be home sick; some will get so caught up in social activities that they neglect their studies; some don’t make friends and feel lost and disconnected; some who commute may feel that they are missing out on campus life and may have a harder time making connections with other students. 


Social adjustment problems can interfere with a student’s ability to succeed academically.  While first year advisers aren’t responsible for counseling students through roommate problems or other aspects of their social experience, they can make room for such issues and concerns when talking to students.  Being aware of and sensitive to this aspect of students’ experience will go a long way in helping you know what questions to ask and what answers to listen for, and may give you important insight into your advisees’ academic reality as well.   Just letting students know that they are not alone in what they are feeling and that most of their classmates are experiencing similar issues will help them feel less alone or alienated. 


If you suspect a student is having unusual difficulty managing the social transition to college, contact the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students, or the Office of First Year Programs. 


2. Academic Adjustment

Students generally come to college knowing that they will need to work harder than they did in high school or that college will be harder than high school.  But those generalizations, while accurate, don’t necessarily mean that new students understand how to go about the work of being a college student.  They don’t realize that they will have to work differently.  Most often, faculty set standards for students and expect them to meet those standards, but don’t teach students what they need to do.  Even the most motivated students can struggle as they find out what no longer works and what new methods or strategies they need to develop.  Advisers can help students confront the need to make changes which typically include learning how to self-monitor and self-assess and developing study skills and habits required to succeed in college.


3.  Major Exploration

A significant number of students will engage in major exploration in their first year of college.  Many of those who enter college having declared a major will question their choice or become interested in a major they did not originally consider and those who enter undecided will focus on exploring and deciding on a major. While many students will know what they want to study before starting college, research suggests that as many or more reach final decisions on majors during college, not prior to entering.  National surveys estimate that 50-75% of students who enter college having declared a major will change their major at least once, and over two thirds will change their major during their first year. 


When working with first year students, it’s important to know that many are reluctant to admit to themselves or even to an adviser that they really don’t know what they want to major in.  As a result, it is not uncommon for first year students to stick with a choice of major that is premature, uninformed, or unrealistic.  Students who chose their majors prematurely or without proper information are more at risk for stopping out or loosing motivation than are students who enter undecided or who use their first year of college to explore other options. 


When talking to students about major choice, also remember to:


  • make sure that students know that they must declare by the time they complete 45 credits that students may speak with an Academic Resources adviser at any time if they are unsure of their major choice or want to explore options.
  • remind students that INT 197H: Exploring Majors and Careers was designed to help students research majors and careers and to identify those that match their interests, values, and abilities.


4.  Dealing with Bureaucracy

Most students enter college with no experience managing the kinds of complex administrative structures that make up the university.  Once they are here, they will encounter bureaucracy head on as they deal with problems and issues related to financial aid, billing, housing, meal plans, account-related and administrative holds, etc.  They are unskilled at formulating specific questions and often don’t have the experience or knowledge to understand everything they are being told.   First year students will rely on their adviser to help them learn how to work with university procedures, offices, and staff to make sure they get the information they need.