Making the Transition

If you just graduated from high school, you will find some distinct differences between high school and college. For instance, you will probably be part of a more diverse student body, not just in terms of race but also in terms of age, religion, political opinions, and life experiences. If you attend a large college or university, you might feel like a “number” and not as special as you felt in high school. You will have more potential friends to choose from, but familiar assumptions about people based on where they live, where they go to church, or what high school they attend might not apply to the new people you’re meeting.

You will be able to choose from many more types of courses, but managing your time is sure to be more complex because your classes will meet on various days and times, and you will have additional commitments, including work, family, activities, and sports. Your college classes might have many more students in them and meet for longer class periods. Tests are given less frequently in college—sometimes only twice a term—and you will most likely be required to do more writing in college than in high school. You will be encouraged to do original research and to investigate differing points of view on a topic. You will be expected to study outside of class, prepare assignments, do assigned reading, and be ready for in-class discussions. Your instructors might rely far less on textbooks and far more on lectures than your high school teachers did. Your instructors will rarely monitor your progress—you’re on your own—but you will have more freedom to express views that are different from theirs. They will usually have private offices and keep regular office hours to be available to you. Many students develop close relationships with their instructors.

Challenges and Opportunities for Adult and Returning Students

If you’re a “returning” student—someone who might have experienced some college before—or if you are an adult living and working off campus, you might also find that college presents new challenges and opportunities. For instance, college might feel liberating, like a new beginning or a stimulating challenge or like a path to a career. Working full-time and attending college at night, on weekends, or both can mean extra stress, however, especially with a family at home.

Adult students often experience a daunting lack of freedom because of many important conflicting responsibilities. Working, caring for a family, and meeting your other commitments will compete for the time and attention it takes to do your best or even simply stay in college. You might wonder how you will ever get through college and still manage to care for your family. You might worry that they won’t understand why you have to spend time in class and studying.

Despite your concerns, you should know that many college professors value working with adult students because, unlike eighteen-year-old students, your life experiences have shown you how important an education can be. Adult students tend to have intrinsic motivation that comes with maturity and experience, and that motivation will compensate for any initial difficulties you might have. You will bring a unique and rich perspective to what you’re learning in your classes, a perspective that most younger students lack.

First-Year Motivation and Commitment

What attitudes and behaviors will help you achieve your goals and be successful in college? If you are fresh out of high school, it will be important for you to learn to deal with newfound freedom. Your college professors are not going to tell you what, how, or when to study. If you live on campus, your parents won’t be able to wake you in the morning, see that you eat properly and get enough sleep, monitor whether or how well you do your homework, or remind you to allow enough time to get to class. In almost every aspect of your life you will have to assume primary responsibility for your own attitudes and behaviors.

If you are an adult student, you might find yourself with less freedom than you had before. You might have a difficult daily commute and have to arrange and pay for child care. You might have to juggle work and school responsibilities and still find time for family and other duties. As you walk around campus, you might feel uncertain about your ability to keep up with academic work. You also might find it difficult to relate to younger students who sometimes don’t seem to take academic work seriously.

Whatever challenges you are facing, what will motivate you to be successful? What about the enormous investment of time and money that getting a college degree requires? Are you convinced the investment will pay off? Have you selected a major, or is that on your list of things to do after you arrive? Do you know where to go when you need help with a personal or financial problem? If you are a minority student on your campus, are you concerned about how you will be treated?

Such thoughts are very common. Although your classmates might not say it out loud, many of them share your concerns, doubts, and fears. This course will be a safe place for you to talk about all these issues with people who care about you and your success in college.