Making an effective transition to college is the key first-year success, and to ultimately seeing graduation. In many cases, transition planning is not formally done, and the mistakes of not thinking about it become apparent only in hindsight, after something goes wrong.
An effective transition should be defined by what a successful transition would look like, and also should be based on available data and research. For example, if the transition is successful, the student will be able to perform up to his or her ability, enjoy the experience, and want to return the following year. This partially describes a concept called student engagement, and research shows that colleges can vary on this important issue. An effective and successful transition to college isn’t based on a school’s name and reputation, along with the aspiration that the student will perform as well as he or she did in high school. This type of transition strategy is called “hope,” and believe me, hope is an ineffective strategy.
Among the many factors to consider, here are three key issues to think about for college transition:
1. Transition Goals
What is the goal of the student going to college? Is it for a liberal arts education, or for pre-law? Liberal arts majors normally like small colleges, and these campuses can provide lots of high-quality social and faculty contact. If the student is going to a large, impersonal campus, extra efforts might be needed for them to integrate in to the student and academic community. Students who are very social heading in to college might need to be balanced with a small campus, since large campuses can provide too many opportunities for social life, which might inadvertently take precedent over their studies. Also, students who tend to isolate themselves or be excessively shy can still be alone in the crowd of a large campus. I’ve had more than one student become so socially withdrawn at a big campus that they stopped going to classes, despite being honors students.
2. Student Characteristics
A student’s sociability is only one characteristic out of the many that should be considered for college transition. A student’s academic abilities and intellectual curiosity will also be important. For curious, high-achieving students, a small campus with few resources or opportunities for outside of class stimulation could bring on boredom, and an aversion to being there. For amiable students who are happy to be average, an environment that can expand their horizons might benefit them most. Finally, other factors, like a student’s susceptibility to stress, homesickness, or other emotional states should be considered. This can of course include high-achievers. Based on my work, I can tell you that even high achievers can and do fail in college for non-academic reasons. For example, high achieving students can be very driven and feel a lot of stress. In many cases, this can develop in to adolescent depression in high school, and if not caught, in to college depression later, which can affect their performance.
3. Specialty Transitions
Many students attend college with disabilities, and colleges must accommodate students under the Americans With Disabilities Act. They can allow things like extra time to take tests, preferential seating, and many other adjustments. What most parents don’t realize is that it’s a process to ask for these accommodations, and colleges vary in their ability and willingness to flex. For example, I recently worked with a small private college in my area whose Disability Coordinator was wonderful. She gave the students we collaborated on not only the accommodations that we requested, but many more that we did not. In contrast, about 15 miles away is another college whose Disability Coordinator practically chastised my student in a meeting we had, and stopped short of call him lazy. It was a complete embarrassment.
Making a successful college transition depends on many factors, and not only on the characteristics of the college, major, and cost. Successful transitions have clear goals, aim to prevent problems in advance, and take advantage of any flexibility that is needed to help find college success.
Jeff Ludovici works with students and families across the U.S. about issues pertaining to college planning, preventing college problems, as well as getting students re-started if they have had problems in college. He is based in Pittsburgh, but has clients in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, and other states. If you have questions, comments, or a student that needs help, feel free to write him at email@example.com.