Making History: An Unprecedented Transition to College

It has been quite a year. You have truly demonstrated Herculean strength in balancing your life of standardized tests, athletic events, activities, jobs, family, and friends. Now, of course, you are facing a health crisis challenge that is redefining the meaning of packing up and heading off to college. It means that over the summer months, you will need to shape a new vision of college life in response to the drastic changes that are occurring on campus due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay engaged – that’s the key. Remember, you are not facing this alone. We are all waiting to see how the fall college semester will unfold. There will be many changes, but we can probably agree that all colleges, first and foremost, will plan around making sure that students are safe and healthy. Do keep in mind that it may not be a snag-free transition. There will be a few rough spots because this is all new to everyone. You can expect to see online classes, adjusted classroom space, and even (don’t be surprised) systematic temperature checks. Currently, colleges are engaged in scenario planning so that they can be ready for whatever our health crisis dictates dictates come September. If you want to see the gamut of possibilities, just take a look at Inside Higher Ed’s article outlining 15 possible scenarios for next year.

Despite the areas of uncertainty, some things are certain. One is packing, and packing for college takes some preparation. This year, it will also take patience. Moving from your childhood bedroom to a dorm room, with or without roommates, is always a big change, but it’s likely that many of you will be staying at home to begin college classes while still living at home with your parents and siblings. That will certainly be different – a huge change, really. Regardless of the atypical beginning, your college experiences will still be a great start to a new chapter of your life as you begin to study with masses of people your own age from various parts of the country and around the world, whether in person or via distance learning.

One of your biggest challenges will be to avoid becoming overly distracted by all the things that are different. Remember that college is about living and learning. Despite the many changes that are ahead, one change that will be key to your success is establishing your academic time zone. By that, I mean your approach to how, when, and what you study. You may think you have at least some idea of what to expect, but once you are set up and your classes begin, you will realize that you are not in high school anymore, and that college is very different.

You can expect that your academic life will take a dramatic shift. You will be moving from doing homework to working to learn. Class time arrives in increments of several hours rather than a full day, and managing academic work requires autonomy, self-motivation, and self-discipline. This is what it looks like in college: if you have a 3-credit hour course (typically three class hours per week), expect to invest 9 hours of work each week in that class. You may feel as though you have a lot of free time, but you will soon discover that class time is just the tip of the iceberg. You will need to spend time reading, understanding material, and working on projects, so prepare to spend time in quiet areas you will need for deep concentration and actual learning. Thinking about how and where you learn best is absolutely necessary for setting yourself up for success. Be smart and prepare for it now. Understanding the demands of each class and managing your time are key and best learned early!

Here’s a bit of advice: Take careful notes in class, keep up with the readings, consult each class syllabus, plan ahead, prepare for tests, and participate in discussions. As you set out for your freshman year, you might ask: Do I need to establish a major in my freshman year? Not necessarily, but it is still best to carefully plan your education. You should have a list of goals and a four-year plan that meets those goals. Of course, you may decide later to make changes, but it’s always best to start with a sound plan. Sound like a lot? Yep! This is full-time work.

It’s true that we can’t see exactly what the fall will look like, but that shouldn’t keep you from preparing for college work. We will no doubt see shifts in plans this summer and will need to take the facts as they unfold. The important activity now is communication, so continue to do so virtually and ask lots of questions. College admissions people are there to help. Of course, as always, we are here to help you too.