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When you become a college freshman, you trade a known way of life for a new one. Such transitions are one of the trying periods a person has to face. The novelty of everything - from college classes, to dorm life, to freedom from parental authority - puts you in situations you may never have handled before. So, it's natural to expect a certain amount of confusion and anxiety while you learn what to expect from the new people in your life - professors, roommates and friends.

If you realize that most freshmen feel some frustration as they're discovering how to fit into their new campus environment, it can help you keep the tough times in perspective. Also, knowing some of the common problems that students face and how these problems are resolved can give you a better idea of what to expect.
The University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) asked its students what they wish they'd known before coming to college and what advice they could offer high-school students. Some of these issues and how students feel about them follow.

Changes in Size
One of the major adjustments many students cited was negotiating the change in size from high school to college classes. Whether the move involved gearing up to life at a large college after being accustomed to a smaller high school, or downshifting from the pace of a large, busy high school to the more intimate atmosphere of some college classes, most students confessed to some initial bewilderment.

A sophomore from a small town in western New York said, "I came from a high school where there were 30 people in my graduating class and the move to a college with 4,000 undergraduates required some adjustment."

Another student remarked, "Freshmen shouldn't worry that they're going to spend their college careers in lecture halls. But it is true that freshman year you take a lot of entry-level classes that tend to be larger, only because they are introductory courses. Once you move deeper into your field of study, you get into smaller, more concentrated courses."

A senior from New York City had another perspective: "My high school was fairly large, so I wasn't bothered by the larger classes that I was in. It's funny, but it was the smaller classes, like my English course, that I had to adjust to."

According to Rochester students, the requirements of college classes also caused initial confusion. A senior from northern Michigan related, "Some of the things I was expected to know how to do in my first classes I wasn't taught in high school. My first assignment in freshman English was to write a four-page paper on any aspect of a particular book. I didn't know where to start! In high school, we always had to write papers where the topic and the structure were strictly defined. My advice if you're in the dark about what to do is just to start - get something down on paper. Even if it's completely awful, which it probably isn't, it's only one essay, and you'll do better next time. If you're really stuck, talk to your professor or teaching assistant. But don't wait to go see them until the day before the paper's due - talk to them in advance."

Essays weren't the only problem area students mentioned. A sophomore remarked, "Not only is the amount of material that you study greater, but you're tested on it in larger chunks. In high school you might have a test every week that covered one chapter, while here you might have a test every four weeks that covers six or seven chapters. If you're initially overwhelmed, don't panic. You'll develop a sense of how long it takes to familiarize yourself with the larger amount of material and what the best study methods are for you."

Adjusting to Grading System
The reasoning behind every college student's concern - grades - was another area where students confessed to initial bewilderment. "At first it's hard to judge how well you're doing in a class," said one junior. "In some classes, the professor will spell everything out to you: exam one is 20 percent of your grade, exam two is 30 percent, and so on. Other times it's harder; for example, you might have a one-page paper, a five-page paper, and two exams in a class. Obviously the one-page paper probably carries the least weight, but what about an exam versus a five-page paper? It requires a different attitude than high school. You have to develop the ability to judge, based on what may be ambiguous evidence, how you're doing in a class."

Reprinted, with permission from "I Wish I'd Known That," Service Bulletin, University of Rochester.

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