Top tips for College-Bound High School Seniors
As an educator, with over 10 years of experience in the field of higher education, today's post will offer some tips for those that are college-bound for Fall of 2022 and beyond.
“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself” – Chinese Proverb.
With any life change, and the decision to attend college is a huge mindset shift for sure, you need to have patience as you make that transition from high school to college. That patience is with yourself and with the faculty, staff that you encounter as you begin your studies.
High school is often an environment where students are guided each step of the way and that is by design. The high school experience serves as your academic foundation. Hopefully, this foundation is a solid one as you move into the next stage of your education. However, in order for you to build upon that foundation, you have to be brave. You will need to take risks and challenge yourself to "think outside the box" when it comes to your education.
Example: Did you know that you do not have to be a Biology or Chemistry major to attend medical school? Were you aware that some professional post-graduate programs do not always require a certain major in your undergraduate studies?
What your parents may know of higher education and what majors can offer may be different than what you will experience. Look at job positions that interest you, check LinkedIn for those in that field and review what their backgrounds look like. What degrees did they have, and what post-graduate work did they do.
Attend Orientation Early
Once you decide on a college make sure to attend Orientation. If your college has more than one session try to plan for the earliest one possible for you. Most schools have learning communities that help students with selecting their first semester of classes (more on those learning communities in a follow-up post). If you attend orientation early you have first dibs on those communities.
TIP: Make sure to let your advisors know of any earned or anticipated credit such as Advanced Placement (AP), IB Credit, or Dual Enrollment credits that you may have coming in, even if you aren't sure on what your scores are. That helps your advisor to better plan your schedule with those credits in mind.
Bookmark your College's Catalog
Every student comes into their undergraduate degree's catalog for their major. Find that information on your college's website, most are online these days and keep it somewhere on your computer that you can find it if needed. Your catalog has all of the degree requirements that make up your major. It is your responsibility to know those requirements. Read that one more time - it is your responsibility.
Yes, academic and faculty advisors will review these, and many other academic policies with you when you meet with them. However, at the end of the day, it is on the student to make sure that they know what those policies are and where to find them. It is not enough to say "No one told me about X, Y or Z....".
A catalog may be wordy and confusing to you. If you are unsure how to interpret that information, ask an advisor for clarification.
See Your Advisor(s) Regularly
“When you educate one person you can change a life, when you educate many you can change the world”- Shai Reshef
I mentioned that knowing policy and your major was important to each and every student. Your faculty and academic advisors are there to make sure that you are in the know. Meet with them regularly. They are there to help you plan your studies, give you information on resources that your school has to offer, and can even be your biggest cheerleader when you need one.
I had a student a few semesters ago that was nervous about applying early to her major (some majors require a secondary application). We went through all of the policy and planning information she needed but as her advisor, I really just need to help her see the possibility of what may happen if she took the chance. In her case, that risk paid off well. Ultimately it was her decision but I just guided her through that fear she was experiencing. Sometimes, your advisor just might be your sounding board. For this reason, I always told my advisees to see me twice per semester. Once to make sure their schedule is good, and to update them on anything they need for their major. Another time can be just for them to check in with me to discuss how classes are going and to perhaps just to talk about school, work, and life.
Know your Deadlines!
The hardest part of being a student is knowing when everything is expected. My best advice to students is to find the academic calendars on your school's website and print them out or program them into your cell phone. Most notably are the deadlines to drop or add classes, when the last day to withdraw from a class is, when your payments are due on your account and when to apply for your major (if required). Also, near the end of your third-year search when your graduation application may be due.
Did you know that most schools require you to apply to graduation? This process is separate from attending commencement and should your school require an application your degree will not be awarded to you unless you do so. This also means that your degree conferral will not appear on your official transcript, which is problematic to those students applying for employment that requires proof of a bachelor's degree. It is also important for your degree conferral to be noted on an official transcript if you are attending a post-baccalaureate program.
To keep up with all these things can be daunting at times so being engaged as a college student may not seem as important. Yet, the research shows that students who participate in programs outside the classroom (such as clubs, internships, volunteer service) tend to do better academically than those that do not. It often leads more students to complete their degrees and move on to complete their degree and graduate on time (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). Yes, engagement can be fun, and a great resume builder, but the best benefit is that students that remain engaged in this way seem to also succeed well beyond commencement (Tinto, 1997)
The Gap Year
This is a tough one for me. As an educator, I know that often students who graduate from high school and go straight to college tend to stick with it. Yet, if you are undecided on your path, or even if college is right for you a gap year may make sense. The key to a gap year is to make sure that it is a benefit and not a hindrance. If you use that time to save money for college expenses, travel abroad, or work part-time or full time in a field adjacent to what you want to study then the time is working to your advantage. If you are using that time to just chill out and binge-watch the latest shows on Netflix then you are not utilizing that time efficiently.
There is something to be said though for sticking it out and going straight from high school to college. You have that learning mindset already and most of the students in your first semester of college classes will be in similar majors and on the same timeline as you. If you wait to attend college or any type of technical school training post-high school for that matter, you lose that forward movement you worked so hard to build while in high school. It may seem nice to just take time off but in order to do so, you really need to plan ahead and budget your time (and your finances) before you make that decision.
Use your student email for all university communication.
Save your financial aid office contact information.
Know how to read your academic evaluation (some schools offer this in an online-type format.
Keep copies of your course syllabi (your course information that you get on day one of that class)
These are just some of the things you can do to make sure you stay on track when you start college. I can assure you that there are more tips and tricks I can offer along the way. Have questions? Let me know and I can try to help guide you to what information you may need.
Pascarella, E. T., and Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students (Vol. 2): A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 68(6), 599-623.