- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

The complete change in lifestyle from the end of senior year in high school to the beginning of freshman year in college can be overwhelming for many students.

Curfews are replaced by all-night parties and all-night study sessions. Incessant amounts of high school homework give way to college exams that determine a whole semester’s worth of effort in one sitting. Lifelong friends who live across the street are replaced by strangers who live across the hall.

New students struggle with social issues such as separation from parents and friends as well as practical concerns such as eating healthfully and managing finances.

“You’ve got kids who, for the most part, have been living at home, having a lot of things done for them, being in kind of a routine they’ve been in for many years, not having to make a lot of decisions,” says Yadin Kaufmann, co-editor of “How to Survive Your Freshman Year,” a guidebook for new students, “and suddenly, they’re going off and being in a new world where they’re living on their own or with a couple of people their age, which means a lot of independence.”

Akira Otani, senior staff psychologist at the University of Maryland at College Park’s Counseling Center, says students’ concerns usually can be broken into two categories: personal concerns such as mental health and self-esteem and career concerns such as how to maintain a high grade-point average or choose a major.

Few close friends

Tatiana Burtoll, a 17-year-old graduate of Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, will attend American University in the fall. She was recruited to play on the university’s varsity soccer team.

Tatiana says she isn’t worried about making friends because she already is bonding with the girls on her team during pre-season.

For the majority of freshmen who are entering college, however, especially if it’s out of state, making friends can be tough.

Clinical psychologist and therapist Robin F. Goodman says the challenge isn’t about meeting people — it’s about sorting through the multitude of new faces to pick out the few close friends.

“It takes a long time, and it feels like a drag to start new relationships and get to know somebody,” she says. “It’s work to find close people, and there’s also lots to choose from, and it can be overwhelming.”

Making friends is just one of several emotional and social adjustments incoming freshmen face. Ms. Goodman says many students make the transition harder by coming into college with unrealistic expectations. They think everything will be easy and fun, she says, and when they encounter setbacks, they become disillusioned.

“Don’t expect it to be ideal,” she says. “Expect that it won’t be all rosy and wonderful, ‘Yay, rah rah.’”

The right school

A major concern is whether the student has chosen the right school, says Sharon Williams, a career counselor at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

Tatiana says she visited every school she was considering to find out if it fit her academic needs (she wants to major in business administration) and if she got along with the girls on the soccer team. She says American University proved to be the best fit.

“I chose it because academically it’s good, its location has a lot of opportunities for internships, they challenge you, I liked the campus, and I liked the coach and team,” she says.

Although counselors strongly recommend that a student visit prospective schools and even stay overnight, it’s impossible to really tell if a college is a good fit until you get there. This causes a lot of anxiety for incoming students.

Ms. Williams describes the typical apprehension as: “‘What if when I get there, what I thought was a fit for me isn’t actually a fit?’”

Experts and counselors agree that students usually need at least a semester to figure out if a school is right for them and to adjust to college life.

During that time, Mr. Otani recommends that students make at least one close friend on campus — someone who is a good listener.

Tatiana says she already has started forging bonds with the older girls on her soccer team. She plans to ask them for advice about practical issues such as meal plans as well as any emotional issues, should they arise.

Ms. Williams says another important factor in forging strong bonds is living on campus. She says she encounters this dilemma often with students who attend local schools such as the University of Maryland. Parents don’t want to pay for a dormitory if the student lives close by, but Ms. Williams says living on campus for at least the first year is essential to fitting into the college scene.

Questions, questions

Although some students struggle with emotional concerns, most if not all struggle with practical and logistical questions.

“Where will I eat?”

“How will I live with a roommate?”

“How do I know which classes to take?”

Most incoming students grapple with these questions. For Tatiana, the biggest worry is succeeding academically.

“High school was a lot of busywork,” she says. “College is just like you take big tests, and they don’t make sure you read and stuff. You have to manage your time well.”

Many students share Tatiana’s fears about time management. High school provides a requisite seven hours of class time every day. When students come home, they have parents to monitor them and make sure they are doing their homework.

By contrast, college is almost completely voluntary. Attendance isn’t taken in most classes, and each class meets just two or three times a week.

Mr. Kaufmann says students should concentrate on academics first and foremost but make room for extracurricular activities such as sports or arts. The key, he says, is moderation.

“Extracurriculars can be fantastic,” he says. “If it’s sports, you’re getting in shape, you’re having fun, getting tight with a group of friends — but you don’t want it to overtake your life.”

Mr. Kaufmann recommends that students spend a few hours a day on extracurricular activities. He also says students can party on the weekends but should reserve Monday through Thursday for studying.

Aside from time management, students often worry about eating right, keeping track of finances and signing up for the right classes. Phyllis Kerr, a career counselor at Watkins Mill High School, describes the barrage of questions that students struggle with:

“‘Can I do it? Will I be prepared? How will I know where my classes are? What will the level of work be? How do I go about registration?’”

Ms. Kerr suggests that students relax, take a deep breath and answer the questions one at a time. She says it helps to remember that the college wants students to succeed and will do what it can to help them answer administrative concerns.

Although most teens adjust to their school, some are miserable and need to transfer. As they weigh the decision to transfer, Ms. Williams recommends that students make a list of the pros and cons of their school. If the cons outweigh the pros, a switch probably is a good idea.

Ms. Williams says transferring is OK, but recommends that a student wait at least a year before switching.

“[Stay] for at least a year,” she says. “In the meantime, you can still be looking for a school to transfer to, but get a year under your belt and do well so you can still show the other school that you can handle college work.”

Despite the challenges of transitioning to college, Mr. Kaufmann says most students stick it out and end up enjoying college life.

“The kids who go to college are pretty motivated,” he says. “They want to make it work. When you have motivation, you can find a way to get through it, even if it’s difficult.”

More info:

For students:

Books —

• “How to Survive Your Freshman Year,” edited by Mark Bernstein and Yadin Kaufmann, Hundreds of Heads Books Inc., 2004. This book is a compilation of advice from hundreds of students from colleges nationwide. Topics range from serious issues such as mental health and eating disorders to more trivial but nonetheless essential tips such as “No matter how nice your [Resident Assistant] is, don’t date him.”

• “Been There, Should’ve Done That II: More Tips for Making the Most of College,” by Suzette Tyler, Front Porch Press, 2001. The author lays out practical hints for common college dilemmas, such as handling roommate disputes, choosing study groups and balancing a course load.

Online —

• Princeton Review (http://princetonreview.com) is a popular test-preparation and tutoring business. The Web site has a detailed description of every college, along with top-20 rankings on criteria such as “best cafeteria food,” “dorms like dungeons” and “lots of beer.” The “advice” section answers both practical and emotional student questions.

• About College (http://aboutcollege.com) is a free, practical advice site sponsored by software company Adirondack Solutions Inc. One of the site’s best features is a list of cheap recipes that can be cooked up easily in the most rudimentary dorm kitchens.

For parents:

Books —

• “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years,” by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003. This book guides parents through the emotions they will encounter when their child leaves for college. It also helps parents become a resource for their child by giving them a glimpse into the child’s experience at school.

• “When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents’ Survival Guide,” Carol Barkin, Harper Paperbacks, 1999. This book advises parents on coping with the separation from their child and dealing with specific situations such as visits to college and summer vacation time.

Online —

• Dr. Mom’s Guide to College (www.lions.odu.edu/~kkilburn/dr_mom_home.htm) was created by Kerry S. Kilburn, Ph.D., a biology professor at Old Dominion University. She shares advice to give your child before he or she leaves for college.

• “Transition to College: Separation and Change for Parents and Students,” (www.aboutourkids.org/aboutour/articles/transitions.html) is a detailed, research-backed article written by Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., in 2001 for the New York University Child Study Center, a research and psychiatric care organization. The piece gives parents advice about dealing with the emotional hardships caused by a child moving away to school.

More info:

For students:

Books —

• “How to Survive Your Freshman Year,” edited by Mark Bernstein and Yadin Kaufmann, Hundreds of Heads Books Inc., 2004. This book is a compilation of advice from hundreds of students from colleges nationwide. Topics range from serious issues such as mental health and eating disorders to more trivial but nonetheless essential tips such as “No matter how nice your [Resident Assistant] is, don’t date him.”

• “Been There, Should’ve Done That II: More Tips for Making the Most of College,” by Suzette Tyler, Front Porch Press, 2001. The author lays out practical hints for common college dilemmas, such as handling roommate disputes, choosing study groups and balancing a course load.

Online —

• Princeton Review (http://princetonreview.com) is a popular test-preparation and tutoring business. The Web site has a detailed description of every college, along with top-20 rankings on criteria such as “best cafeteria food,” “dorms like dungeons” and “lots of beer.” The “advice” section answers both practical and emotional student questions.

mAbout College (http://aboutcollege.com) is a free, practical advice site sponsored by software company Adirondack Solutions Inc. One of the site’s best features is a list of cheap recipes that can be cooked up easily in the most rudimentary dorm kitchens.

For parents:

Books —

• “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years,” by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003. This book guides parents through the emotions they will encounter when their child leaves for college. It also helps parents become a resource for their child by giving them a glimpse into the child’s experience at school.

“When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents’ Survival Guide,” Carol Barkin, Harper Paperbacks, 1999. This book advises parents on coping with the separation from their child and dealing with specific situations such as visits to college and summer vacation time.

Online —

• Dr. Mom’s Guide to College (www.lions.odu.edu/~kkilburn/dr_mom_home.htm) was created by Kerry S. Kilburn, Ph.D., a biology professor at Old Dominion University. She shares advice to give your child before he or she leaves for college.

• “Transition to College: Separation and Change for Parents and Students,” (www.aboutourkids.org/aboutour/articles/transitions.html) is a detailed, research-backed article written by Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., in 2001 for the New York University Child Study Center, a research and psychiatric care organization. The piece gives parents advice about dealing with the emotional hardships caused by a child moving away to school.

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