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RESOURCES FOR FIRST-TIME RESIDENT STUDENTS 


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Every year, multitudes of students make the transition from high school to college. Many others return to school after raising a family, serving in the military, or saving money from years of work. While transitions can be challenging, enrolling in a residential university or college is one of the potentially most fulfilling of them all.

Settling into a routine at a new place, especially one away from home, takes time and usually some friendly assistance. Finding the right courses, adjusting to hall life and roommates, dealing with "not-your-mother's" cooking and finding your way around an imposing campus are almost guaranteed to cause some anxiety. Initial feelings of independence and freedom mingle with homesickness.

Happily, many colleges and universities work hard to help students feel okay and to move quickly into a comfortable rhythm. The variety of support services and helpful people on many campuses is substantial. Increasingly, colleges and universities train staff and faculty to listen carefully and compassionately to students.

Orientation programs employ friendly upperclass students trained to be helpful ("no question is a dumb question"). Residence hall staffs include student assistants on each floor as well as trained professionals in the office. Counseling and health centers offer confidential services. Religious advisors lend comfort and help you meet others with common commitments. The vice president or dean of students and staff you meet in the early signups - admissions, financial aid, registrar, bursar and academic advisors - are often keenly interested in helping well beyond the first day you enroll, because they all want to see you succeed and graduate.

Once you have registered for class, met your roommates and attended the first residence hall meetings, things will feel better and initial thoughts of "why did I choose this place" will fade. But, that is a prime time to find or reestablish sources of help you may need later. Who will help as you match academic programs with post-college options (hint: the Career Development Center), or struggle with your first roommate or relationship challenge? Who can help identify part-time job opportunities or tell you how to get to do research with faculty? Who will listen to your feelings about family left at home? Start early to find people with the advice you may need later; don't wait for a crisis to know where to get help.

Student affairs staff and upper-class students are two great sources of information and many are very interested in sharing what they know. For example, they may advise that your first campus job be kept to 8-10 hours a week. That still leaves time to study and join a club or two. Also, get to know those who employ you. You may find a friend or mentor there.

Speaking of mentors, many schools have formal programs you should explore. A mentor is usually what you allow her or him to be - a friend, an advisor, someone with whom to explore academic needs or personal concerns. It is up to you to decide how much contact to have, how much to share with or seek from a faculty or staff mentor. It's an opportunity to find a person who can help cut red tape, reassure you in tough times, react to your ideas, but not intrude into things you want kept private.

Students trained by a college to be peer advisors or counselors are often a trusted first point of help, but they should know when to refer you to skilled professional staff. Athletes find help from coaches and teammates. Students with an academic concern can quickly find interested teachers. Faculty sometimes express disappointment that their office hours go unfilled because students put them on a pedestal, or fail to believe faculty will really care. Get to know your teachers; their interest in your growth may be a pleasant surprise.

As you meet college admissions personnel or other representatives, be sure to ask about the support services at their school. Find out how dedicated a school is to meeting not only your academic but also your many other needs. The colleges and universities who make it clear they want you to succeed by the programs they offer are ones you want to explore very thoroughly. A last word: when at all possible visit, visit, visit and ask lots of questions, especially of tour guides.

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