The first year for many college students serves as a series of lessons, transitioning from the stellar high school scholar to (possibly) the mediocre, bottom-of-the-class college student.
James Mancall views spring break as a “blessing and a curse” — especially for first-year students.
“We focus on just getting to spring break so much, we get back and it’s easy to forget that we have eight to 10 weeks to go,” said Mancall, associate dean for academic advising at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. “So we need to hit the reset button and transition out of spring break.”
The first year for many students serves as a series of lessons, transitioning from the stellar high school scholar to (possibly) the mediocre, bottom-of-the-class college student.
University of Texas at Austin freshman biology major Maya Grant stepped onto campus as a student that never needed to put effort into receiving an A — that is until she became a Longhorn.
“I learned a lot my first semester. I had to learn how to study,” said Grant. “In high school, I didn’t have to study and I still passed. I tried that in college and I failed my first test.”
With a few lessons learned — such as preparing for an exam well in advance and studying in groups to better grasp information — Grant completed her first semester at UT with a 3.47 GPA, juggling biology, chemistry and pre-calculus.
“I’m definitely not happy about that,” said Grant. “But it’s OK. I’ll do better this semester.”
However, with a heavier workload than the previous semester, Grant’s spring semester is shaping up to be much more difficult.
And increasingly warmer weather, Mancall said, can add another challenge for students.
“Maybe it’s a New England phenomenon, but as soon as the temperatures hit 80 degrees, students are tempted to hang out in the quad after class,” said Mancall. “I like to remind my students that there will be a lot of sunny days in the summer.”
Mancall suggests making a plan to transition from spring break — reviewing course syllabi and looking ahead to prepare for exams, projects and papers. He also suggests checking in with faculty to gauge current academic standing.
Science majors also should anticipate a rocky road at the end of the semester.
“The end of the semester brings big lab projects that may require different kind of work and research to complete,” said Mancall. “For computer science majors, it may require coding for an elaborate project. Being aware of it now will prevent students from being caught by surprise.”
Ishmael Behrhorst, a senior at UT majoring in public health with a concentration in nutrition, was definitely caught by surprise his first year of college.
“I never struggled making good grades until I stepped foot on the Forty Acres (UT),” he said.
In fact, Behrhorst plummeted to a 0.7 GPA his first semester and found himself on academic probation.
“In order to bounce back I had to really focus on my studies,” said Behrhorst. “I had to attend tutor sessions, study groups and really do some intense independent study if I wanted to get to the 2.0 to clear of academic probation.”
Three years later, Behrhorst is redeemed — older, wiser and well-versed at balancing school, an internship, extracurricular activities and socializing.
“As a freshman I would probably receive about 20 fliers a day advertising a party hosted by a fraternity or club,” said Behrhorst. “I never saw any of these to be distractions until I joined one. I did not realize how many of these student organizations had high commitments, including but not limited to community service hours and attendance.”
College is a higher level of learning with a heavier course load, demanding much more than the high school student is accustomed to. It isn’t uncommon to stumble in first year.
“It’s important for first-year students not to be discouraged,” said Mancall. “It’s OK. You have seven other terms to learn and make improvements with study, sleep and time management.”
In order to raise her GPA this semester, Grant plans to figure out what’s really important, which means studying more, partying less and surrounding herself with individuals who have similar beliefs and values within her major.
She is only six weeks from summer break, which means six weeks of caffeinated days, frequent naps and dedicating time to her academics — a first for the stellar high school student who never had to study … until college.
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