7 Steps to Ensure a Smooth Transition to College

The 11-year-olds were grumpy as they walked to their elementary school graduation ceremony. They revealed their worries about their move to middle school: “How will I find my way in that big school? What if the work is too hard? What about all my soccer team friends?” Whether students are moving from elementary to middle school or from high school to college, transitions bring worries and challenges. Notwithstanding the excitement of the new, issues of uncertainty and fear loom over the heads of students as the fall approaches. They will wave goodbye to friends, family and school familiarity and say hello to new schools and challenges. A major challenge confronted by freshman involves self-management: the ability to schedule time, organize materials and supplies, and maintain a study schedule. Without the limits and supports previously provided by parents, many students flounder in their college’s less structured living/learning setting. A handy guide is provided here for students to use prior to and during their first semesters at a new school in order to prevent common problems and ensure a smooth transition to college.

1. Accept responsibility for your own success by making arealistic plan. Don’t assume that because you earned a high GPA in high school, you will automatically earn a similar GPA during the first semesters. Discuss “reasonable” academic expectations and an action plan based on the realities of the college requirements and competition. Discuss possibilities with college counselors or other professionals. Make sure you understand any minimum grade point requirements that are tied to scholarships or grants you receive. Review your progress with a counselor every quarter.

2. Develop a support network. Talk to family, friends and others. Identify personnel at campus resources such as Academic Affairs, Counseling, Financial Aid, Health and Mental Health Services and, when indicated, Services for Students with Disabilities. Touch base with someone in each office before the semester begins and agree to meet with at least one counselor every three weeks. Use a card case, address book or cell phone to save information about those you contact including name, position, address, telephone, fax and email. Note office hours, preferred mode of communication (e.g., email versus telephone) and other pertinent information such as referrals or resources on the reverse side of the business card or in additional fields within Outlook or another program that stores contacts.

3. Meet academic responsibilities. Go to class. Learn how to access the campus library, technology, health and mental health resources and recreational facilities. Arrange effective conditions for your learning style or vulnerabilities. For example, sit where you will be least distracted and most likely to see the visuals and hear the lecturer. Schedule two hours of study for each hour of course credit. Study when you are most alert and rested. Find a comfortable but distraction-free setting. Relax for a few minutes, perhaps by looking over the front page of a newspaper or on a mobile device. Break study periods into fifteen- to thirty-minute segments with five- to ten-minute breaks. Provide yourself with recognition and rewards as you complete study tasks.

4. Establish schedules and routines. Review the syllabus for each class. Schedule the dates for all tests, papers, reports and projects on a four-month or semester calendar. Use a daily and/or weekly calendar to schedule study times. Check off each assignment as it is completed. Create a study routine such as going to the library after class to review notes. Some experimentation is required to develop a workable study schedule. Subsequent monitoring of progress often requires the input and assistance of a counselor, tutor, academic coach or high-achieving classmate.

5. Employ self-regulation strategies to manage thoughts, behavior, time and tasks. Be specific about how to replace “bad” study habits with positive action in order to decrease stress and increase academic performance. Monitoring progress and using feedback to modify study habits is critical to success. This, too, is an area in which a tutor or academic coach can provide valuable guidance, support and skill development. If something goes wrong, tell yourself that such events are expected part of the transition process and that a visit to an instructor, counselor or academic coach will help you get back on track. 6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat smart, exercise regularly, practice stress management and include rest, relaxation and recreation in your weekly schedule. Students who do not take care of themselves often become ill just when they can least afford to miss class or study time. Their illnesses occur more frequently, last longer and require more bounce-back time.

7. Be proactive. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Expect the inevitable ups and downs. Don’t deny academic warning signs such as a take-home midterm that is weeks late or the neglect of your last four reading assignments. Procrastination, depression, anxiety, insomnia, medication non-compliance, perfectionism, irritability and anger do not dissipate as a semester unfolds. It is far more common that when difficulties arise, the stress, fear, and fatigue related to college work exacerbate previously existing problems and propel students into giving up or failing. As soon as problems emerge, talk to instructors, use academic resources and contact your support network, academic coach, tutor or mental health professional. Use these tips to ensure that your transition to college is smooth, enjoyable, and stress-free.

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