Ready, set, college

Alyssa Habing, left, will attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and

Gilroy students prepare for the next big phase
Gilroy – Gilroy High School graduate Laura Rink has everything she needs to start at the University of California, Santa Barbara – right down to the new pink-and-orange matching sheet set for her dorm room. She has her classes picked out – the perfect balance between difficult and easy – and she’s heard all the roommate horror stories.

“I’m pretty much ready,” Rink said. “It’s going to be a time of increased independence, but then again, so much responsibility.”

According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems 2003 study, about 80 percent of college freshman in California returned for their sophomore year, and only 50 percent earned their bachelor’s degree within six years. With such daunting statistics, school professionals are weighing in to give students some tips for surviving their freshman year.

Rebekah Nathan, author of “My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student,” went undercover at her own university to get back in touch with her students. Nathan, who writes under a pseudonym, is an anthropology professor used to immersing herself in other cultures. She felt she should explore the one at her fingertips.

She took on a full course load, lived in the dorms and participated in intramural sports. Through her experience and in interviews with her fellow freshmen, Nathan discovered how hard college can be.

“There’s one person you’ll meet that will affect your freshman year significantly,” she said. “It’s not your (Resident Assistant). It’s not a professor … It’s your roommate.” Through her research, Nathan found roommates to be the single most common cause of problems freshman year.

Nathan offered advice to incoming freshmen: “Establish ground rules about things like visitors, borrowing and neatness.”

The relationships one forms the first couple of months at school may prove to be the most influential, she explained, so take advantage of clubs, sports, and social activities on campus.

“Resist the temptation to go home, or hanging out with high school buddies who are going to be at the same school,” she said. “Put yourself out there even when it’s hard.”

Students enter college with different academic backgrounds and abilities. Some have been exposed to Advanced Placement courses, others barely squeaked by. It may seem obvious, but throughout Nathan’s studies, the number one reason students failed out of college is because they didn’t go to class.

Early morning classes may not mesh with the perceived college lifestyle of late night study sessions and parties, but oftentimes freshman have little choice over their schedule so students need to plan accordingly.

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a social life. It’s just a matter of time management. I really believe that it’s possible to have both,” explained Gilroy High School academic counselor Anabel Arreola. “The key thing is to have balance.”

According to Arreola, students need to recognize when they operate best – during the day or at night, in quiet or busy study environments – and establish study time that is complimentary.

“Let’s face it, I know I’m not going to be studying after 7 or 8pm,” said Alyssa Habing of Gilroy, who will start school at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo this fall.

Knowing her study habits, Habing signed up for primarily morning classes with gaps in between to study during the day.

At orientation this summer she was warned by school officials to “be prepared to be the only girl in some of your classes.” Habing will be an engineering student in a program that is only 14 percent female.

For some students, the scenario might be intimidating. Some might feel lost in large lecture classes and fail to take advantage of their professors’ help.

“I’m the type of person that if I need help, I’ll say something,” Habing insists.

But for students who might feel more like a number than a person in their lecture class, Arreola recommended they introduce themselves to the professor and become familiar with the school’s student services.

“In my opinion, the students that don’t succeed, most of the time didn’t take advantage of the resources offered,” she explained.

Most colleges offer free tutoring, academic and financial counselors, health services and libraries. Even if students don’t need these services immediately, they should know what is offered and where they can go for help on campus, Arreola explained.

To really understand all that a school offers, she advises students to live on campus – at least for the first year.

For Habing, location was everything when she chose Cal Poly. She visited the school and felt comfortable in the town.

“I don’t know how I’d do at a large school – being from Gilroy,” she said. “It’s going to be weird not knowing the whole town.”

Moving from one’s hometown to attend college can be exhilarating and scary. Rink, preparing to attend UC Santa Barbara, knows she will no longer recognize all the faces at a party.

“It’s going to be a huge change from high school,” Rink explained. “Learning to trust new people will be hard.”

Gavilan College counselor Leslie Tenney has noticed one correlation in her seven years at the school.

“The more connected, the more involved our students are, the better they do,” she said. “We do see a number of students who started out at the four-year schools and come back. The biggest reason … is because they were homesick, they just weren’t ready to be away.”

Tenney recommends students research and visit campuses before applying. Also, new students should visit guidance counseling twice during the first semester – once right away to choose classes, and another to discuss how things are going.

“Be a regular face with the counseling department and make those appointments,” she said.

Tips for Freshman:

Impress the professor:

If you have to miss class, call the professor beforehand. “It shows respect,” said Gilroy High School academic advisor Anabel Arreola. “Just like a job, call, because then they know that you respect the class.”

Act like an adult:

Read the student handbook. “Ignorance is no excuse,” said anthropology professor Rebekah Nathan. “As a freshman you’re going to be entering a world of unprecedented freedom for you – no one’s going to be looking over your shoulder.” So know where your college stands on cheating, and its policies regarding alcohol and drug use.

Stay emotionally healthy:

Remember that it’s OK to change your mind. “It’s OK to major in undeclared,” Nathan said. The first couple of years are times of change, and students are exposed to new career paths. “There will be majors you’ve never heard of, classes you never knew existed,” she said. “Give yourself a chance to take some other classes even though there’s pressure to declare.”

Avoid unnecessary debt:

During many campus events, credit card companies are present and offer students what appears to be the key to financial freedom. “You have to be really careful,” Arreola warned. “It’s so easy to start charging, and then you get the bill.”

Escape the ‘Freshman 15’:

Eat healthy and keep exercising regularly, Arreola suggests. Stress and late night study sessions can lead to fast food binges and unhealthy routines. Schedule time to exercise.

Tips for parents:

Visit the campus. Go to the school’s Web site to become familiar with the programs and campus. “By visiting the campus, parents will feel more comfortable about knowing where their child is attending,” Arreola explained. “Of course (you’re) going to miss (your) child, so check in with them so they feel they still have support at home.” Her advice: Send homemade goodies. “Don’t worry so much. They’re going to be OK. It’s going to be OK,” Nathan said.

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