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Are you thinking about attending a two or four-year college/university next year? If not, you should be! Unfortunately, many high school students believe college is not for them. As a higher education administrator with over 14 years of experience, I am saddened when talking to high school students who believe they would not do well in college. Almost all high school graduates can succeed in post-secondary education if they are committed and willing to work hard to achieve their degree. I am frequently asked, what can students do prior to arriving at college that will help them be successful during their first year? Although there is no easy button to ensure success, I do have advice for students to consider during (or before) their last year of high school. Using the word S.E.N.I.O.R as an acronym, I will provide guidance regarding things you can be doing now that will help with the transition to college.
S – Schedule
E – Embrace
N – No
I – Independence
O – Opportunity
R – Rigor
Schedule: College is very different from high school in terms of scheduling and time management. Most high school students are in class roughly seven hours every day. However, in college you may only attend class for three hours each day. Do not let the lack of class time fool you into thinking you have an abundance of free time. Although the classes meet less, you are still accountable for studying on your own time. Trying to study for college classes, while balancing other obligations (e.g. work, extracurricular activities, new found freedom, etc.), can be challenging and is often a pitfall for new freshmen. Start using a planner now to schedule where and when you need to be somewhere. Do not rely on parents, teachers, coaches, etc. to plan your daily schedule, as they will not be doing that for you in college.
Embrace: Embrace challenges during your last year of high school. Have you ever wanted to try out for the school play, take a difficult course, or make friends who are different from yourself, but did not take action? Now is the time to go for it! College is full of new and challenging opportunities for everyone. If you want to make the most of your college experience, you will embrace challenges and try new things. Identifying and trying new things while in high school will prepare you for this growth opportunity in college. Many new college students are hesitant to “put themselves out there,” but I have found those who are more willing are the same students who challenged themselves while in high school.
No: Learning to say “no” is important. It is okay to tell your friends “no” if they are attempting to get you side-tracked from the task at hand. I have heard from hundreds of college students who say their low grades are due to the inability to tell their friends “no” when asked to do something that gets them off task. If you need to study, study! If you need to go to work, go to work! If you need to get to bed early because you have a big test in the morning, go to bed! You get my drift. There are numerous distractions in college. However, academics must come first. If you learn to say “no” to your friends in high school, it will be beneficial to you while in college. I have seen too many college freshmen who could not say “no” and found themselves on academic probation or suspension.
Independence: During your last year in high school attempt to become more independent. Wake yourself up in the morning, do your own laundry, make your own meals, and seek opportunities (e.g. part-time job, volunteer, etc.) that will help you develop. Many students love college because of the independence it provides. However, that same independence also causes some students to struggle with the adjustment and eventually leave an institution. As they say “college is the best four years of your life.” However, it is also one of the most critical four-year spans for your growth and development. Realize there will be new expectations for you as a college student. If you already have experience being independent in various areas, you will have an advantage over many of your peers.
Opportunity: College is a great place to explore new and exciting opportunities, but so is high school. A new opportunity does not have to be an official school function, club, sport, etc. Although there are numerous institution-regulated opportunities (e.g. courses, clubs, etc.) while in college, there are also many opportunities to grow and develop on your own. I think it is great when college students want to experience something new that is an official program or course at the institution. However, I also encourage them to explore opportunities that are “off the books.” Meet people who are different from themselves, try new foods, or go to a local event that is not course requirement. Being open to new opportunities in high school will help prepare you for potential new experiences while a college student.
Rigor: One of the most common concerns I hear from college students (and their parents) involves the increase in academic rigor. A college degree opens many doors, thus degrees should not be freely distributed. College courses are designed to challenge you in an effort to expand your mind and prepare you to become a highly-skilled professional. If students attempt to prepare for college classes the way they prepared for some high school courses (e.g. studying the night before the exam, not reading before class, etc.), it usually does not end well. While in high school, begin to develop good study habits. Arrive to class prepared by reading the material beforehand, study several days prior to an exam, and use your resources such as tutoring, meeting with teachers, etc. Academics in college are a different ball game. New freshmen who realize this early, and adapt their approach, will be more successful.
Although the adjustment from high school to college is a big one, you can do it. In addition to implementing the aforementioned advice, talk to peers who are currently in college who can provide a first-hand perspective. As long as you are dedicated and willing to work hard, you CAN be successful in college.
Dr. Kyle Ellis serves as the Director of the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience at the University of Mississippi. In addition to his responsibilities as Director, he co-chairs the University’s Retention Advisory Board and holds the faculty title of Instructional Assistant Professor of Higher Education. He received his B.S. in Health and Human Performance and M.S. in Education from the University of Tennessee at Martin. He earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education in 2011 from the University of Mississippi. His dissertation focused on academic advising experiences of first-year students who were undecided in their major.
Dr. Ellis is involved in several higher education professional associations. He has held many leadership positions within the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), including a three-year term on the Board of Directors. Additionally, through publishing, presenting, and attending conferences, he is active in the Consortium for Student Retention and Data Exchange (CSRDE), National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. Dr. Ellis’ book, It Takes A Campus: 15 Initiatives To Improve Retention, was released in March 2017. Through publications, presentations, and speaking engagements, Dr. Ellis is committed to growth and professional development, in order to ensure student success, satisfaction, and persistence.