It’s the first day of college. Students are trying to figure out where their first classes are, professors are passing out syllabi and the student activities committee is hosting a back-to-school celebration. With so many new experiences, freshman can get overwhelmed, but being prepared can help them adapt to college life.

The shift from high school to college is crucial and sometimes daunting, but there are several ways students can make it successful, according to a variety of college experts.

David Barron, executive director of enrollment management at Rogers State University, suggests that students should be aware of the differences between high school and higher education.

“High school isn’t college,” he explains. “There is a greater need for critical thinking skills. You’re expected to understand and remember what you read, draw your own conclusions, form opinions and be able to evaluate the ideas of others.”

Barron also says students should realize class sizes, study habits and the amount of classroom time is very different at a university than in high school. Because of these things, there is a greater need for the students to have personal responsibility, he advises.

“When students come to college, they have a tremendous amount of freedom,” he says. “No one is monitoring their progress or if they’re going to class, so they have to be responsible for their own academic progress. Those who are successful in college have to develop self discipline and work hard.”

Barron says finding the right balance is key, which includes becoming part of the college community. As you develop relationships or become part of the social fabric you feel accepted, which helps in the transition, he says.

“Make your own smaller group within the larger one,” he emphasizes. “Develop friendships, relationships and networks.”

Students should be aware of who they surround themselves with while attending a higher education institute, Barron adds. If a student surrounds his- or herself with people who aren’t concerned with being successful in college he or she is more than likely not going to thrive.

“The key for a lot of students is establishing a point of contact or a relationship with either an upperclassman, administrator or advisor,” Barron suggests. “Don’t be afraid to explore other avenues because college is where you get the most exposure to other cultures, experiences and different ideas than any other time in your life.”

Connecting The Dots

Missy Wikle, director of New Student Orientation at Oklahoma State University, says it’s important for freshmen to connect with the campus, their studies and people.

“The better the connection the student has the more he makes the college his home,” she explains. “It becomes more than just that place where they go to school. They feel more a part of the school.”

Part of connecting to the campus is utilizing the resources available to students when they’re having a difficult time adjusting to life at a university, Wikle says.

“Some students don’t struggle, but for those who do they should ask for help,” she advises. “You’re not saying you’re a failure if you have to ask for help. I think using the resources around them is probably the best way to have that successful transition.”

Being committed to an academic major is an important factor in succeeding in higher education, Wikle says. The students who really make that personal connection to continuing their academics are the ones who are committed to learning how to do well, she continues.

“Those students are the ones who will not only find the degree area that they’re interested in faster, but they’re so tied to it, it becomes a part of them,” Wikle explains. “Being connected to their major does help in being successful.”

Wikle also suggests that preparation is key. Students must understand that they will need to think about time management, study skills and budgeting.

“I think the preparation for the realities of college is really important,” she adds.

Taking the initiative and being responsible for their own lives are another way freshmen can make a smooth transition, Wikle states. It starts with the student taking that responsibility for his future and realizing he’s about to be an adult.

“There is a depth of learning that is expected that (students) may not have had before and realizing that that takes a lot more effort than it did in high school.”

Understanding It All

Lee Hall, director of Student Life at Oklahoma City University, says students need to learn early on to think and act independently. She also advises students to utilize what is available to them.

“It’s just simple things like understanding the syllabus, taking advantage of the professors’ office hours and really taking advantage of the services offered on campus that can help students successfully transition,” Hall says.

Understanding and learning time management is essential in college, according to Craig Hayes, executive director of Recruitment Services at the University of Oklahoma.

“In high school time is mapped out, but in college it’s different,” Hayes emphasizes. “I think the primary thing is students need to organize their time and make sure they’re taking care of things that are important in order for them to be successful. Taking the time to do that is an important tip for students.”

Not only should students figure out how to adapt to new academic schedules, but they also have to adapt to the social aspects of college. Hayes agrees with other experts on the importance of students being involved on campus.

“I tell students all the time, they should come to the University of Oklahoma to major in an academic degree program, not to major in student involvement. At the same time, students need to plug into the community and find other students who share interests, whether it’s academic or social. It’s important for students to get involved.”

Extensively researching the college of your choosing is highly suggested by Hayes. Students should do their homework on universities that they’re interested in attending, he says.

“Getting acclimated with the university before attending is essential,” he explains. “Learn the history, the traditions and the services available as soon as possible. This helps students adjust to the college, which makes them feel more comfortable.”

Ultimately students should realize there are resources and support networks within a university to help assist them in thriving in the college atmosphere, but it takes initiative to successfully transition.

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