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"The Freshman 15" - 15 Simple Tips To Make a Successful Transition to College

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Click here to watch Beth Ann on The Hampton Roads Show!

The transition from high school to college is a huge one for all incoming freshmen.  It is probably one of the most significant transitions that college bound students will face in their lives.  They leave secure environments where parents and high school personnel take care of their needs.  Parents made sure their daily needs were met while teachers managed all aspects of their learning.  They move into new environments where the demands on college students are vastly different.  College students must manage their time, their learning, their health, and their basic needs.  While it is exciting and liberating to leave the nest and start new, independent lives, there are a number of things that college bound students should do to make their transitions easier.  The following tips can guide college bound freshmen as they prepare to navigate the academic, social, personal, and environmental differences that they will encounter.

1.  Buy a planner and a desktop calendar.  Time management becomes absolutely essential as students spend less time in the classroom and more time doing independent learning.  Students need to keep track of their syllabi and are often not reminded of assignments until they are due.  That is why utilizing a month at a glance desk calendar and planner is essential to the success of college students.

2.  Buy your books.  In high school, many students do not need to read their textbooks; the necessary information is delivered to them during class.  The reverse is true in college.  Only a small portion of essential information is discussed in the classroom.  Students must study on their own and read their required texts in order to gather all the information that may be on exams.  The rule of thumb is that for every 1 hour spent in class, students should spend 3 hours outside of class studying independently.  College textbooks are expensive and some students choose to skip purchasing the books.  This is not a good idea if students want to be successful in college.

3.  Research, purchase, and learn technology.  Laptops and online classroom management systems are as common today as notebooks and #2 pencils used to be.  It is essential for all college students to own a laptop during their college years in order to have access to their class assignments, grades, registration, and financial information.   Students need to research the type of system most commonly used within their majors and purchase the recommended type of laptops early.  In addition, there is so much technology available to help students study and take notes.  Students need to research the available options and learn how to use the technology prior to going to college.  There is enough to learn during the first weeks of school, note-taking software should not be among them.

4.  Attend orientation and familiarize yourself with campus.  Once students know which colleges they are attending, it is important to see the campus from enrolled student perspectives.  Most colleges require incoming freshmen to attend campus orientations.  This is good because there is so much information that students need to know once they are enrolled.  Students must also register for classes.  Once students have their schedules, they should walk their schedules.  Locate building and classrooms classes in advance so they are not frantically doing this on the first day of classes.

5.  Talk with your advisor.  Advisors have so much essential information to impart to students.  Aside from scheduling, advisors can talk with students about different majors, discuss potential careers, guide the selection of classes and internships, and help students overcome hurdles that might stand in their way.  Students should get to know their advisors well because they will support them through the college years

6.  Talk with your roommate.  If students plan to live on campus, they should contact their roommates/suitemates prior to move-in day.  It will help ease the transition if they have established contact and communication with these people.  Some roommate/suitemates decide in advance the décor of the rooms or the entertainment technology that will be available.  Residence Hall staff plan plenty of opportunities for roommates/suitemates/hall mates to interact during the first weeks of school.   They really want the halls to become students’ home away from home.  It is also important to know that most Residence Hall staff will guide roommates to develop roommate agreements that cover issues such as quiet hours, guest rules, and food sharing.

7.  Talk with people who are currently in college.  Informational interviewing of current college students - especially those who have just finished their freshmen years - can be a valuable tool in gaining understanding of what to really expect in college.  College bound students should ask questions about the best aspects of college as well as the most difficult hurdles faced and most stressful experiences.  These questions will help students better prepare for the transition that lies ahead.

8.  Talk with your parents.  It is essential for college bound students to talk with their parents openly and honestly about communication plans (how often will they plan to talk/text one another), travel plans (how frequently are they expected to come home or the parent expected to come visit), and financial plans (how much spending money will the student have, how will they get additional money if needed, and are they expected to work while at school).

9.  Buy supplies to organize your residence hall room.  College bound freshmen need to understand that their residence halls are small spaces; typically 10' x 15' for two people to share.  That is not a lot of space to hold clothes, books, study supplies, food, technology and entertainment.  Students need to determine how they are going to organize all of their things in such a small space.  Some colleges allow students to use risers to place under the legs of beds to allow for more storage space.  Students need to find out in advance what their colleges will allow.

10.  Learn to do your own laundry.  Speaking of dorms, students must be able to keep their dorm rooms clean.  Students can actually get kicked out of dorms if they are not kept clean.  Therefore, students must be willing and able to keep things tidy, deep clean when necessary, and do laundry.  It is best to practice these skills at home before leaving for college.

11.  Learn how to manage your finances.  Students must understand that money in must equal money out.  If the money out is too high, then students are spending too much and may inadvertently rack up large overdraft fees and interest rates.  They really need to learn to be responsible for their spending and keep track of all their charges.  College costs alone are high and many students are taking on their college debt burden alone.  They cannot add additional fees and charges to the limited funds that they have.  College students must also be wary of credit card providers that target college freshmen with high interest rate credit cards.

12.  Learn about campus resources and plan to use them.  Increasingly, researchers are finding that the students who succeed the most in college are the ones who are aware of college resources and use them.  Colleges want their students to succeed.  They want them to stay in school and graduate in a timely manner.  Therefore, colleges are providing the tools that students need to be successful.  They offer tutoring services, writing services, supplemental instruction, mentoring opportunities, counseling services, disability services, major exploration and career services.  These services are typically free of charge to students.

***It is essential that students with disabilities register for accommodations as soon as possible.  Students with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act in college.  This means that they are afforded equal access to higher education while being provided reasonable accommodations.  Every college and university has an office designated to support students with the provision of their accommodations. Often times, students with disabilities decide that they are going to try to make it on their own without support and accommodations.  For some students, they are fine and able to succeed but many end up reaching out for support once they have failed a test or a class.  It should not be that way.  Students should understand that it is their right to receive accommodations and not a crutch that they should avoid.

13.  Plan to attend class.  This is the single most important factor that can lead to college success.  Students are paying for classes so they are essentially throwing away money when they skip class.  They are also throwing away the opportunity to learn and to hear first hand from the teacher what is important.  Professors often give clues when they teach about the information that they love and will likely be on exams.  Their voice becomes more animated, they use expressive body language, and they may even say that certain information will be on an exam.  Students miss all of that as well as the opportunity to acquire new information when they miss classes.

14.  Prepare to lead a balanced life.  College is about learning inside and outside of the classrooms.  Students need to attend classes but they also need to be involved in campus life. They need to learn from diverse perspectives, participate in interesting activities, and develop their leadership skills.  This can all happen when students get involved in campus activities, internships, and community activities.  Research has found that those students who become engaged in campus activities are retained at a higher rate than those who are not.  Successful students learn how to balance their studies and their activities.  They also learn how to lead healthy balanced lives.

15.  Prepare to take control of your life.  In higher education, students are their own case managers; they are their own advocates.  They are the responsible for keeping track of their assignments and taking control of their studies.  To become the best students and advocates as possible, students must become keenly aware that they are unique individuals, they have unique needs, and they have unique aspirations.  The knowledge of their own personal profiles should guide them to better methods of acquiring and synthesizing information, communicating their needs to professors, mentors, and advisors, connecting new information to their life path, and balancing curricular and co-curricular opportunities.  College is a time of personal discovery.  Students need to be deeply invested in the process.

For more information on the ODU Office of Educational Accessibility – visit or call 757.683.4655.